Life in the fast lane

By Simon Griver, November 11, 2011

Even entering Tel Aviv, one of the world's high-tech capitals, has been an innovative experience, since the Tel Aviv Fast Lane was opened in January, billed as the world's first dynamic toll road. The fee paid varies according to the number of vehicles using the 13km (eight-mile) stretch of highway leading from Ben Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv.

The Fast Lane is a fourth lane entering Tel Aviv on Highway 1 (Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway), designed to offer an alternative to sitting in the morning rush hour, for drivers prepared to pay for it. There is no similar lane coming out of the city.

The toll is marked at the entrance to the lane and ranges from NIS 7 to NIS 75 (£1.20 to £13) when congestion peaks (6.30am to 9.30am). The driver pays the toll marked at the time of entry, regardless of whether the price rises or falls when they are on the lane. However, the fast lane takes a charge of a further NIS 27 (£5) for drivers who have not registered their vehicle in advance on the internet or by phone.

On average, the toll in the morning rush hour is about NIS 40 (£7). In return, drivers can complete the stretch of road leading to the Kibbutz Galuyot Interchange at the southern entrance to the Ayalon Highway in just 11 minutes, while those who do not pay sit in traffic for 30 to 45 minutes. The toll is collected automatically, with the licence plate photographed and the bill posted to the vehicle's owner.

The Fast Lane has been controversial at a time of social protests about the widening gaps between rich and poor in Israel, with the wealthy speeding into the city, while most working Israelis sit in the jams and watch them whizz by.

However, the toll highway operators argue that the Fast Lane has other features that make it both socially and environmentally friendly. Firstly, buses (and taxis) go free, meaning that those who can afford only public transport get into the city faster.

Secondly, cars with four or more passengers (including the driver) also go free, although despite the high-tech nature of the project, this requires the driver to enter the car park zone and register with an inspector.

Thirdly the Fast Lane also has a free park-and-ride feature. Drivers can enter the Fast Lane, leave the car in a large car park just before the Shappirim Interchange and then board buses to the Azrieli Centre or the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange. Both the parking and the bus are free, but some users have complained of being mistakenly billed. However, bearing in mind that parking can cost £3 per hour in Tel Aviv, this can be the cheapest way of visiting the city. Cars left in the car park after 11.30pm will be charged an overnight fee.

There are no exits from the Fast Lane, so drivers wishing to travel on Highway 4 to the north or south should not use the facility. There is also no access to the Fast Lane from the Ben Gurion Airport Interchange, so drivers should travel eastwards first to the Lod Interchange and then return on Highway 1.

Motorcyclists pay only half the toll, but those with hired cars will be asked to pay handling fees of several pounds above the toll itself, which can make the Fast Lane uneconomical for some tourists.

Last updated: 4:09pm, November 11 2011