Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai on Wednesday stood by a Tel Aviv Municipal Council decision to seek permission from the Transportation Ministry to operate buses in the city on Shabbat.
Despite criticism, there will be public transport in Tel Aviv on Shabbat, Huldai told Army Radio.
Public transportation on the Sabbath would be a welcome relief for the residents of Tel Aviv who don't own cars, and would help efforts to cut down on the use of private vehicles in the city, Deputy Mayor Asaf Zamir said Wednesday.
"Driving is permitted on the Sabbath so the only people who are affected by the lack of buses are those who don't own cars and find themselves confined to their homes on Shabbat," Zamir said, two days after the Tel Aviv City Council voted 13-7 to ask the Transportation Ministry for permission to operate public transport systems on Shabbat.
Though the motion has little chance of gaining approval from the Transportation Ministry, Zamir said it highlights an issue that speaks to Israel's place in the western world.
"The state of Israel is the only country in the western world that doesn't have public transportation seven days a week. The fact that 70% of the population lives in cities means that there should be decisions made to limit the use of private cars. Because there are no cars on Shabbat people like myself have no choice but to buy a car for that one day a week. If I lived in Paris or in New York I would have no need for a car at all," Zamir said.
Currently there are a few mini-bus lines and private "sherut" taxi vans that run in central Tel Aviv on the weekend. The sheruts are a convenient way to get around central Tel Aviv but they don't provide an answer for residents of Tel Aviv's suburbs and neighborhoods of South or North Tel Aviv far from the city center.
Zamir also said that he believed that the majority vote in the city council illustrates that like in the council, the majority of the residents of the city support having buses on Shabbat.
"I'm sure there are cities where the results would be the complete opposite. I'm not saying you should have it [public transportation on Shabbat] in all of Israel, but there should be in Tel Aviv."
Monday night's motion was proposed by Tamar Zandberg, a city councilwoman from the Meretz faction. The day after the motion passed, Zandberg wrote on her blog that while the measure may not have much chance of gaining approval, it is a common-sense decision that must be made for the sake of the city's residents.
"In Tel Aviv, 40% of the residents don't own cars, there are 24 hours each week in which they are stuck and grounded without the ability go distances further than a long walk or a bike ride. The sea, the parks, the museums, friends and family, everything becomes too far away on the one free day of the week."
She said it could also have an effect on the car-owning public, who would be freed up to take public transportation, thus, in her estimation, cutting down on air pollution, car accidents, and incidents of drunk driving on the weekend.
She also argued that Israel needs to break away from the "status quo" on separation of church and state, a result of agreements made during the time of the founding of the state more than sixty years ago.
"You – the religious public – have held onto this [public transportation on the Sabbath] for so long that people have stopped asking why. The time has come to start doing the most logical thing possible."
A Transportation Ministry spokesman indicated Tuesday that the ministry would not approve Tel Aviv's request. The Transportation Ministry will "not infringe [upon] the status quo which has been in place for decades regarding all aspects of public transport on Shabbat,” the spokesman said.
Nevertheless, Huldai on Wednesday vowed to continue the mission to bring buses to Tel Aviv on Shabbat. "We must determine if we want to live in a democratic, Jewish state or a solely Jewish state - which will be similar to Iran," Huldai told Army Radio. "The citizens have the right to visit their relatives on Shabbat or go out for a trip," he added.
The Tel Aviv mayor cited Brooklyn as an example of a place where Orthodox Jews practice their religion while public transportation operates everyday of the week.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.