Measures taken by the Municipal Association for Environmental Protection dramatically reduced air pollution levels in Haifa Bay.
In the past, Haifa Bay area suffered primarily from industrial pollution: the petrochemical and steel industries, the power station. For many years, these issues were not handled properly; the truth is that thirty-forty years ago people were unaware of the serious problems of air pollution, and began to take notice of it only in the last twenty years or so.
Dr. Ofer Dressler, Director Manager of Haifa Bay Municipal Association for Environmental Protection: "A lot of money and thought were invested in preventing the industrial pollution, and while the Haifa area may not have turned into a pharmacy—this is big industry, after all—the levels of industrial air pollution dropped dramatically.
"The problem facing us now is the pollution caused by vehicles. Fortunately, we have the possibility to do something that cannot be done elsewhere in the world—to measure the levels of pollution on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, the refineries, the power plant, the petrochemical industry, all continue working regularly. The tests from Yom Kippur illustrate that when there are no vehicles, the level of pollution drops to 10% of the levels on a regular day.
"This proves that Haifa had become 'normal', meaning that air pollution from transport is becoming the dominant factor. The whole world is fighting with this problem. Here, because of the fear from the industry, air pollution from vehicles was not dealt with until lately. 200 thousand vehicles move through Haifa—i.e. the Bay area and the Krayot—daily, compared with one million in Gush Dan, where the problem is much greater.
"The Carmel Tunnels solved part of the problem here, but it doesn't show in the graphs, because the number of vehicles is constantly rising. If the tunnels didn't exist, you would see an increase in air pollution, but while there's no increase, there also is no decrease. The number of factories is fixed: you install an additional filter, an additional scrubber, and the situation is improved; the number of vehicles, on the other hand, increases.
"In the past two years we started several projects aiming to improve the situation. One example is the project of cooperative electric vehicle, Car2go. The idea is that when you live in a big city, you don't need to own a car, let alone two or three. Experience shows that about ten families use one such automobile. This significantly reduces the number of vehicles in the city. More than that: the experience in large cities shows that when people move to use a shared vehicle, they also begin to use public transportation more frequently.
"Our decision was to one step further, and use electric cars. They have Car2go in in Tel Aviv as well, but with conventional engines. We want to make all transportation here completely clean, with no emissions. It made the project more expensive and slightly delayed it, because we needed to deploy charging stations all over the city, but it was completed and the project was launched last November. There are currently 100 such vehicles in Haifa, soon there will be 100 more in the Krayot. People will learn that it is much more economical than owning private vehicles.
"The other project is treating the most polluting vehicles—diesel buses and trucks; eighty percent of the traffic pollution is caused by 20% of the vehicles. We started with the oldest machines, the city's garbage trucks, who move daily through the city's neighborhoods. With support from the Office for Environmental Protection, we are replacing 40% of the oldest trucks in the city with trucks working on natural gas; by April, they will be functioning. One hundred such trucks create the same amount of pollution as one diesel truck. Every year, we will retire the older trucks and put in place new trucks working on natural gas. I hope that in a few years there will no longer be diesel trucks in the city.
"Regarding buses, we sat down with Egged to examine the question of the use of electric buses or natural gas buses. The tendency was to choose natural gas, because electric buses are much more expensive. Currently, Haifa is the only place in Israel with 50 electric buses. Haifa and the Krayot, that is. Electric motor fueling costs 15% of regular gas. They are quiet, too—you do not hear them. By the middle of the year, Egged will decide whether to stay with the electric buses or switch to natural gas ones.
"The third project—to the newer trucks and buses that we don't yet want to replace, we add a particulate filter, which is not cheap, it can cost 20-40 thousand Shekels, but is phenomenally effective: it reduces the emissions by ninety-nine percent.
"All these measures boil down to a program we have recently launched, Haifa—Reduced Pollution Zone: vehicles over a certain degree of pollution—this refers only to commercial vehicles, not private ones—will not be allowed to enter the city. We put cameras at all entrances to the city, connected to the Ministry of Transport's computers, where the vehicles' polluting level is recorded, including an update on particulate filter installation. As of 1 February, polluting cars no longer enter Haifa. Same steps will be taken in the Krayot area, the same process, and it definitely will reduce air pollution, and prevent a future worsening of the situation."