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What to do when space runs out

Talking traffic in Tel Aviv with bubble Dan’s General Manager, Itai Rogatka. Could this new on-demand, shared option solve a longstanding transportation puzzle?

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In Israel, traffic is more than an annoying hiccup during a morning commute. Congestion is now so bad across the country, it’s actually leaving a dent in the GDP. 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently concluded that Israel has the highest road traffic intensity per network length out of all 37 countries in the OECD. This isn’t just a quality of life concern for citizens. Persistent congestion issues incur costs amounting to about 2% of the country’s GDP. Compare that to the EU’s average of 1% and the US’s range of 0.7% – 0.9%. 

And the cause? The IMF’s report points to public transit’s limited service hours, which drives many Israelis to purchase private vehicles. More cars on the road = more traffic jams, which can make getting from point A to point B an absolute nightmare, especially in the country’s bustling tech and business hub, Tel Aviv.

“Driving in this area is really challenging…some of our riders just stopped riding in their cars and they are fully using bubble.”

Transit leaders began to realize that without serious action, the future doesn’t look too bright. The IMF reports that car ownership has increased well beyond the rates of both population growth and road network expansion since the mid-2000s. The Israeli Ministry of Finance also projects that this number will continue to grow, along with congestion, even if road volume sees an uptick. 

The looming congestion conundrum is the reason why the Ministries of Finance and Transportation turned to leading public transit operator Dan Transportation, along with TransitTech leader Via, to fashion a congestion solution that promoted sharing vehicles rather than driving alone. The solution, bubble, launched as a pilot program in April 2019, and then as a full-fledged service seven months later. 

bubble operates 110 vans, including wheelchair-accessible vehicles, to provide on-demand, shared rides for Tel Aviv residents and those in the surrounding cities of Giv’atayim and Ramat Gan. bubble’s operators used the pilot period to collect rider and driver feedback in order to improve and adapt the service for Tel Aviv’s unique needs, rapidly increasing both rider and driver satisfaction and resulting in daily riders more than doubling in the first month of service.

Both the bubble team and the Ministry of Transportation are excited by data showing that a significant portion of bubble’s ridership lies in those who own private vehicles, as opposed to those who would otherwise take another mode of public transit. “Driving in this area is really challenging…some of our riders just stopped riding in their cars and they are fully using bubble,” notes the service’s General Manager, Itai Rogatka. The data indicates that bubble, and other services like it, could be the future of public transportation, rather than ride-hailing services that steer people away from publicly-funded infrastructure.

And when it comes to traffic congestion, the results are clear. Between August 2019 and February 2020, bubble Dan was responsible for eliminating more than 730,000 vehicle miles from the streets in Tel Aviv alone. It turns out, when sharing a ride is easy, it just works.

In this episode of “The Dispatch,”  Rogatka sits down for a conversation with Via’s Guy Sher to talk more about bubble’s unique business model, buoyed by federal support, as well as how the service has become a critical resource for essential employees during COVID-19. 

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