Going the distance: commuting patterns in Israel
Author: Taub Center Staff Bulletin Articles

It’s one of the topics that people who work think (and complain) about the most – the commute. How long do we commute, by what modes of transportation, and how does this affect our choices about where to live, the employment opportunities available to us, and our day to day experience? On the national level, what can commuting patterns tell us about traffic congestion, infrastructure, and social gaps?

In a recently published Taub Center study, Researcher Haim Bleikh explores various aspects of commuting trends in Israel and finds that most trips to work in Israel are short. Three out of every four workers of prime working age travel 20 kilometers or less to reach their workplace, and most of them travel by private car.

Distribution of workers by daily commute to work

While 62% of commuters get to work by car, only 17% commute by public transportation, 10% by bicycle or by foot, and 8% by work-organized transportation. In terms of how long the commute takes, about 60% of workers travel for no more than half an hour, while 30% travel between half an hour and an hour, and 10% travel for over an hour in each direction.

The length of commuting time can be influenced by different factors in different parts of the country.

For example, in both Jerusalem and Petah Tikva many commuters travel between half an hour and an hour, but in Jerusalem (where 91% of residents work within the city) this seems to be due to the extensive use of public transportation and large city size, while in Petah Tikva (where 44% of residents work within the city) a higher percentage of commuters travel by private car and commute distances of up to 20 kilometers, indicating that the travel time is a result of traffic congestion.

There are also differences in modes of transportation and commuting patterns between Arab and Jewish majority localities. For example, among Arab Israelis living in Arab localities the infrequent use of public transportation is notable, stemming from the lack of adequate public transportation infrastructure.

The topography of some localities creates natural constraints that impede mobility as well. Among those who use public transportation, surveys show that 82% of Jews are satisfied with the location of the nearest bus stop to their home, compared to only 63% of Arab Israelis.

Similarly, residents of Arab Israeli localities report lower levels of satisfaction with the state of the roads in their area than Arab Israelis living in localities with a Jewish majority.

Given the particularly low labor force participation of Arab Israeli women, Bleikh’s study takes a closer look at the commuting patterns within this segment of the population. The vast majority of employed Arab Israeli women (about 70%) live either in the north or in the Triangle (Hadera and the Central region) areas. Two-thirds of these women work within the area in which they live, while one-third work outside their residential area.

Of those who commute from their residential area, the commuting distance among women from the Triangle is greater than among women from the North. This seems to indicate that women in the Triangle have a higher “commuting tolerance” than women in the north.

In general, employment opportunities are more limited and less diversified in the north and big employment hubs like Haifa are a considerable distance from Arab Israeli localities. Thus, traveling just a little bit farther does not necessarily yield a big increase in employment opportunities.

For women in the Triangle, however, their relative proximity to the center of the country, where there are more employment opportunities, means that traveling farther distances is more likely to be rewarded with increased employment opportunities.

It’s important to note that the willingness of Arab Israeli women from the Triangle to commute farther distances may be due to a combination of two factors: increased employment opportunities that make a longer commute reasonable (as mentioned above) or a shortage of employment in the Triangle area, which forces many women to seek work farther from home.

So, are the challenges faced by Arab Israeli women in integrating into the labor market all about geography? The employment rates of Arab Israeli women in mixed localities are higher than in the northern and Triangle regions but lower than those among Jewish women.

This indicates that, beyond the substantial geographic barriers, there are additional obstacles that affect the employment patterns of Arab Israeli women, such as mastery of the Hebrew and English languages, unofficial discrimination by employers, a shortage of appropriate daycare solutions, and social norms.

In Israel, the National Insurance Institute publishes its annual report on poverty in December, resulting in a month in which policymakers and the media put a particular emphasis on discussing issues relating to poverty. It’s no surprise that the presence or lack of employment opportunities has an impact on individuals’ and households’ abilities to escape poverty.

Therefore, it is important to understand that the accessibility of employment opportunities largely depends on the spatial “match” between places of employment and places of residence, as well as on the transportation options and travel times required to get from one to the other.

Better understanding of Israelis’ commuting patterns provides us with a more accurate picture of how this spatial matching affects labor market participation and employment opportunities, particularly for some of Israel’s most vulnerable population groups.