Around 200 people on Saturday rode buses commissioned by the Meretz Party as part of a campaign calling for public transportation on the Shabbat.

The buses ran along Kfar Saba, Ra’anana and Herzliya, and were free for anyone who wanted a ride, according to a Meretz press statement.

“The Transportation Ministry must release money from the religious stranglehold and allow for organized public transportation on weekends,” said MK Nitzan Horowitz, who rode one of the buses. “This is a vital service with large social and environmental implications: It will allow those who do not own cars or do not have drivers licenses to move around, and it will also reduce the number of traffic accidents.”

“The public enthusiasm for Meretz’s buses proves how necessary this service is,” he added.

Tel Aviv City Council Member Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said that her party’s initiative caused shock waves across the country and “proves once again the need for public transportation on Shabbat.”

Meretz promised to continue in its struggle for public transportation on Shabbat.

Last month, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai criticized the lack of public transport on Shabbat. Israel is “the only country in the world in which public transport does not operate for a quarter of the year because of Shabbat and festivals,” he said.

Religious parties remain adamantly opposed to any legislation that would allow for buses to run on holy days.

In a recent study examining the level of Jewish religiosity in Israel conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Avi Chai Foundation, 59 percent of respondents said they were in favor of public transportation on Shabbat and 68% said that weekday activities, such as going to movies, cafes and restaurants, should be available on Shabbat as well.

There is no legislation banning the operation of public transportation on Shabbat, but every bus line needs approval from the ministry, including for its hours of operation. As part of the status quo agreement on matters of religion and state, bus lines are generally prevented from operating on Shabbat and festivals, except in the greater Haifa and Eilat areas, as buses operated there before the foundation of the state.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this article.

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