October 18, 2018

Untying the Gordian Knot

Posted by Noam Maital, CEO at Waycare

A Greek legend tells about a unique knot which could only be loosened by the man who would rule all of Asia. It was called the “Gordian” knot because it was preserved in Gordium. The knot was complex and tangled. According to the story, Alexander the Great cut the knot with his sword. And he went on to rule the ancient world.

The phrase “untying the Gordian knot” has come to mean, solving a near-unsolvable problem.     

Traffic congestion in Israel a major problem, in fact it is 3.5 times that of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average. One study dissects the problem – and offers a creative solution for cutting the ‘knot’ of clogged traffic:

In the past 45 years, the number of vehicles increased by 12 times but the length of roads only doubled. The cost of time wasted in traffic jams in Israel is estimated at 2% of GDP per annum, or 22 billion shekels (about $6 billion). In 2017 Israel’s GDP grew by 3.5%.  With zero traffic congestion, that figure could have been 5.5%!  The cost of time wasted in congested traffic is enormous – but hidden, because none of it is out-of-pocket or overtly budgeted.  

And the problem is about to get a whole lot worse. Figures show that the number of vehicles exceeds the capacity of roads to absorb them. As a result, the average traffic speed plummets from – say 90 km/hour – to 15 or even 10 km/hour (i.e. standstill).  Israel’s roads are on a doomsday path to becoming parking lots. 

But there IS a solution. As a new study by one of Israel’s leading economists, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, shows. [1]  Here is his proposal:

  • 80% of Israelis drive alone to work. This creates huge traffic jams in Greater Tel Aviv.  Technology plus incentives can be devised to encourage multi-person occupancy of vehicles
  • Tax reform is needed. Today vehicle taxes (sales tax, gas tax) will be abolished. In their place — and gradually – a tax per kilometer driven will be imposed, a tax that varies with the place, time of day and number of persons in the car. This tax will be (of course) much higher in rush hour than in off-hours. (Off-peak charges per km. could be as low as 5% of rush-hour charges). Overall, taxes related to vehicles will not rise but will be restructured.  This should make the proposal politically feasible.
  • In addition, employers will be given major incentives to organize carpooling and multi-person cars, to transport workers to their jobs.
  • Urban bus transport will be reorganized to be competitive with private cars.

It is possible to untie the Gordian knot of traffic congestion, the study shows, and while the study was conducted in Israel, the situation is starkly similar in major cities across the globe. 

Will public and private transport agencies act today to solve the congestion epidemic we face? or will we continue to wait for an Alexander the Great, wielding a sword, when the situation has become worse than intolerable? 


M. Trajtenberg (with S. Cohen, A. Pardo and N. Sharav), “Untying the Gordian Knot:  A Short-Term Traffic Management Plan”.  S. Neaman Institute Technion,  Sept. 2018  (www.neaman.org.il)

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