Back and Forth: Commuting for Work in Israel

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The phenomenon of ­­commuting – workers traveling daily from their residential area to another locality for work – is a topic of much discussion in Israel, mostly because of increasing road congestion and issues surrounding investments in infrastructure development and public transportation.

A new study by Taub Center researcher Haim Bleikh examines the characteristics of commuting in Israel, the various factors that influence choices about mode of transportation, and the impact that residential area and transportation infrastructure have on different population groups.

The study shows that most workers engage in short distance commuting and prefer to travel by private car rather than public transportation, but spend a relatively long time in transit. Regarding the commuting patterns of Arab Israeli women, the data show additional evidence of geographic barriers that may inhibit their entrance into the labor market.

Over the last 30 years, the number of employed persons working outside their residential area has risen from 42% to 54% among Israelis of working age (as of 2016). The expansion of commuting is characterized by an increase in the use of private cars, which is the main mode of transportation among commuters.

This expansion is the central cause of the strain on Israel’s road infrastructure; the number of rides has grown faster than road expansion – creating the traffic jams that have become all too familiar.

Alongside a large increase in the number of workers commuting by private car, there has been a notable change in the modes of public transportation use: specifically, alongside a sharp decrease in the number of commuters riding the bus, there has been an increase in the number of train passengers in response to investments in this area.
Modes of transportation to the workplace

How far do Israelis travel and how long does it take?


The study shows that most trips to work are short. Three out of every four workers aged 25-64 travel 20 kilometers or less to reach their workplace, mostly in private vehicles (for 2014-2016). About 60% of workers travel for no more than half an hour, 30% between half an hour and an hour, and about 10% travel for over an hour in each direction.

Regarding the choice in mode of transportation – 62% commute to work by car (including shared rides) and only 17% commute by public transportation. 10% commute by bicycle or by foot and 8% commute by work-organized transportation.

There are large differences in commuting patterns in different parts of the country. These reflect differences between the spatial distribution of suitable places of employment and residential patterns, the personal preferences of residents, and the availability of transportation options (resulting from national and regional decisions related to infrastructure development and public transportation).

Thus, even though 91% of Jerusalem residents work in the city, 33% commute between half an hour and an hour in each direction, apparently due to the large size of the city and the extensive use of public transportation (which stems from the socioeconomic characteristics of the population as well). Similarly, many commuters in Petah Tikva travel between half an hour and an hour, but a much higher percentage of them use a private vehicle and commute a distance of 20 kilometers or less, meaning that the duration of the journey is the result of traffic congestion.

In stark contrast, Tel Aviv has a high rate (68%) of commuters with short commute times, who mostly travel by foot or bicycle. Among other things, this is a result of municipal encouragement of the use of bicycles.

Distribution of workers by lenght of daily commute to work

Factors influencing decisions about mode of transportation for commuting: residential area, gender and sector


The choice among modes of transportation for commuting is influenced by various economic, social, and geographic factors. From Bleikh’s analysis it emerges that there are differences in commuting patterns between Jews and Arab Israelis that are affected by their places of residence.

Among Arab Israelis living in Arab localities, the infrequent use of public transportation is notable, stemming from a low supply due to the lack of adequate public transportation infrastructure. On the other hand, among Arab Israeli workers there is much more extensive use of work-organized transportation.

In general, transportation infrastructure in Arab Israeli localities is inferior to that in Jewish localities, a fact that is evident from responses on satisfaction surveys. Arab Israelis living in localities with a Jewish majority are more satisfied with the state of the roads than residents of Arab Israeli localities, and, among those who use public transportation, 82% of Jews are satisfied with the location of the nearest bus stop to their home, compared to only 63% of Arab Israelis.

In addition, gender differences were found in the mode of transportation chosen by commuters. Men are more likely than women to use a private vehicle, since, on average, they work farther from home and are more likely to have a driver’s license. Women use public transportation more – especially in large cities, where employment opportunities are varied.

Among both Jews and Arab Israelis, a large proportion of workers in the manufacturing industry – mainly men – commute by work-organized transportation. Among the reasons for this are the prevalence of shift work in the manufacturing industry and the isolated location of workplaces. Work-organized transportation is also commonly used by Arab Israeli men in the construction industry.

Sector affiliation is also related to commuting patterns. Within the Jewish population, there is widespread use of public transportation among Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and new immigrants – especially women – in both large and small localities. This seems to be related to the socioeconomic characteristics of these population groups. For the Haredi population, the data also reflects policy that takes into account the particular needs of this group – such as the high frequency of certain bus lines.

Want to travel less? You’ll pay more


Israelis’ decisions about where to live and work stem from a variety of factors, including regional differences in housing prices and the location of employment hubs. In this new Taub Center study, Bleikh examines the relationship between commuting and housing prices in the Central region of the country (Gedera to Hadera).

The analysis shows that workers who live closer to employment hubs pay more on average for housing, and those who commute from farther away enjoy cheaper housing prices.

It is quite possible that many workers prefer commuting to relocating their place of residence. In general, the internal migration rate between localities and within them stands at about 7% of the total population in recent years, and it seems that among those who move there is a preference to remain close to their previous place of residence: about 60% of changes in address were recorded within the same locality.

In the Gedera-Hadera area, the relatively short distances between localities, as well as the proximity to the Tel Aviv area and to major cities such as Rehovot and Herzliya, may encourage choosing longer commutes over moving between residential areas.

In general, the population density in the Gedera-Hadera area has socioeconomic advantages and, accordingly, net migration to this region was positive. The data may reflect the limited ability of low housing prices in the periphery to attract residents.

Geography: how do commuting options affect the employment of Arab Israeli women?


The employment rate of Arab Israeli women has risen in recent years, but the question of how to further encourage this trend presents an important challenge for policymakers. The Taub Center study examines the effect of commuting patterns and places of residence on this issue. The analysis focuses on the North and Triangle (Hadera and the Central region) areas, where 70% of employed Arab Israeli women live.

The data show that about a third of employed women work outside their residential area. Of those who work outside their residential area, women in the Triangle area are more likely to commute to Jewish localities for work. In the North, about half of employed women who commute work in Arab Israeli localities and about half in Jewish localities.

Bleikh also finds that the commuting distance among Arab Israeli women from the Triangle is greater than among Arab Israeli women from the North. The reason for this is that in the North employment opportunities open to Arab Israeli women at a reasonable distance (such as in Afula and Carmiel) are limited, and it isn’t always possible for them to travel a farther distance (to Haifa, for example).

Therefore, despite the distance between the Triangle and localities in the Center of the country, women from the Triangle area are willing to travel farther and to spend more time commuting either to expand their employment opportunities or because of the employment shortage in their residential areas.

The employment rates of Arab Israeli women aged 25-64 from the Northern and Triangle regions are similar to each other (about 33%). The low employment rate in these regions, as well as the fact that a high percentage of Arab Israeli women in the Northern district do not seek employment because they claim there are no employment opportunities in their region, indicate that the geographical aspect might be particularly important in determining employment rates for this population.

Therefore, to raise the employment rates of Arab Israeli women in general, and of those in the North in particular, incentives for the manufacturing industry to develop new employment hubs close to Arab Israeli communities should be considered, as well as improving transportation in these areas.

Employment rates in mixed localities (66%) are higher than in the Northern and Triangle regions but lower than those among the Jewish population, indicating that there are additional non-geographical barriers and factors that affect the employment patters of Arab Israeli women, such as mastery of Hebrew and English and social norms.

“Commuting should benefit workers because it allows them to live in the right place for them at the right price and to work in a place that suits them,” says Bleikh, “but most commutes to work are over short distances and in private cars. This has created an infrastructure overload, and the overload will only become greater as the population grows, especially if the population continues to converge in the already-crowded Central region of the country.”

The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel is an independent, non-partisan socioeconomic research institute. The Center provides decision makers and the public with research and findings on some of the most critical issues facing Israel in the areas of education, health, welfare, labor markets and economic policy in order to impact the decision-making process in Israel and to advance the well-being of all Israelis.

For details, or to arrange an interview, please contact Anat Sella-Koren, Director of Marketing, Communications and Government Relations at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel: 050-690-9749.