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24 Aug 20

Israel shows world how to do public transport, post corona

Israel is a smart mobility giant, but a public transport dwarf. The country is using the COVID-19 crisis to bridge that gap. Its ‘smart commuting’ is a global example of how to organise public transport, post corona. 

Social distancing: that’s the best way to fight the pandemic. No wonder then that shared and public transport, in particular, have suffered in the past six months. But both are necessary elements of a future-oriented mobility ecosystem. So how do we marry those transport modes with the current health and safety requirements? 

Mobility innovation
We can look to Israel for an example. And that’s a bit more of a surprise than you might think. Because there's a mismatch between the country's strength as a mobility technology innovator, and its weakness as a public transport provider.

In September 2019, McKinsey lauded Israel’s innovation ecosystem, with its roots in R&D for defence technology, as one of the world’s most mature – especially when it comes to mobility innovation. Since 2010, investors have funded over 40 Israeli start-ups with dedicated mobility applications (as well as 300 start-ups with potential mobility applications). The total sum puts Israel in fourth place globally, after the US, China and the UK (and ahead of Germany and Japan).

Fragmented and inefficient
But there’s another side to Israeli mobility: its public transport system is not up to speed – literally. The public transport offering is fragmented and inefficient, and as a result often is a contributing factor to Israel’s gridlocked transportation landscape, adding a lot of pollution for just a little bit of extra mobility. 

Or at least, that's how the situation was, until recently. Because COVID-19 has proven to be the kick up the backside that the sector needed. To be more precise, that kick was the mobility crisis caused by the health crisis. On the one hand, public transport needed to adhere to strict social distancing rules, but on the other, it also needed to transport essential workers to their essential jobs – as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. 

Here’s how a pilot project brought together the public and private sectors to achieve those goals, developing creative solutions to reinvent public transport as ‘smart commuting’. 

Not a product
Those solutions – and that reinvention – are based on the idea that mobility is not a product, but a service. In other words: not a piece of hardware that you need to own or maintain, but a bit of software that gets you from A to B. That, in short, is the definition of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) and it’s one of the things that Israel’s burgeoning mobility start-up scene is very good at. So:

  • Israel launched a dedicated, on-demand MaaS system to help its 176,500 key workers find the most efficient route to work, across all available mobility options (from trains and buses over taxis and rental cars to shared private cars and bicycles – and any combination).
  • The system uses an algorithm to calculate the most efficient route, not just for the passengers, but also for the buses, vans and cars they use. 
  • A trial version of the app involved 5,500 key workers, who entered their location and destination and used the proposed solution to get to work. In 60% of cases, they were dropped off within 300 m of their destination.
  • Three weeks after the launch, the app was already used by 12,000 key workers, who had generated 75,000 trips, using 250 different modes of transportation. 
  • The system may save its users more than €21 million per year in lower fares.  

Israel’s pandemic-driven reinvention of its public transport paradigm, leaning heavily on its domestic expertise in MaaS, is gaining popularity in the country itself. However, ‘smart commuting’ could also serve as a model for other countries wanting to de-congest and de-pollute their public transport, and to do this while maintaining the social distancing requirements imposed by the coronavirus. 


Image: rush hour in Tel Aviv (Shutterstock)

Authored by: Frank Jacobs