Killer Congestion: E-Bikes and Emergency Response in Israel
February 19, 2018
Some in Israel hope electronic “e-bikes” can be a life-saving solution to long ambulance wait times on the country’s jam-packed roads.
Israel may be rocketing ahead in high tech, but commuters are increasingly stuck in gridlock. With three-and-a-half times more vehicles per kilometer than the average OECD country, Israeli roads are among the most congested in the developed world. And the problem is only getting worse. Car ownership is rising far quicker than new roads are being built and, each year, Israelis’ reliance on private automobiles for transportation is increasing.
Congestion is a huge economic drain, costing the Israeli economy nearly $10 billion a year. But traffic jams can also prove fatal. Average ambulance response times in almost every Israeli city exceed the government’s 10-minute target, and in some towns, residents have to wait more than double that. The wait can mean the difference between life and death.
Some hope electronic “e-bikes” could be the solution. In early 2017, Israel’s leading emergency response service became the first in the world to deploy a fleet of a thousand e-bikes to congested urban areas. Weaving through traffic, bike-riding first responders can quickly negotiate sidewalks, cobbled backstreets, and busy markets to reach accidents faster than medics in any other kind of emergency vehicle. The motors even allow riders to scale Jerusalem’s steepest hills with ease.
While e-bikes can save lives, they are no panacea. Only so much medical equipment can be carried on a bike, and a bike cannot carry a wounded patient. Ironically, the proliferation of e-bikes in Israel creates its own challenges. With almost a quarter-million now on Israeli streets, drunk and distracted e-bike riders are getting into more accidents.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.