Frustrated by the decades-old prohibition of public transportation in the capital during Shabbat and certain holidays, a cooperative of Jerusalem entrepreneurs initiated the “Shabus” bus service last Friday for secular and non-Jewish riders.
According to Hovev Yanay, one of the founders of the Cooperative Transportation Association of Jerusalem, the initiative was created in response to the Transportation Ministry’s refusal to allow bus and light-rail service during Shabbat.
“We studied the law and searched for the golden path between the Transportation Ministry’s refusal to give licenses to operate public transportation on Shabbat and the needs of many Jerusalemites,” Yanay told YNet.
The cooperative has raised over NIS 110,000 through a crowd-funding website called Headstart, he said, adding that, to date, approximately 500 people have signed up online for the service, at a cost of NIS 50 for an annual membership fee.
Co-founder and chairwoman, Dr. Laura Wharton, said only cooperative members are permitted to make use of the bus services.
“Everyone wanting to join the cooperative must pay a NIS 50 fee as part of their registration for annual membership dues,” she said.
“Afterwards, members will take part in defraying the costs of hiring the buses. We’ve set a maximum of NIS 12 per ride, but we’ll be dividing the costs of renting the buses among the members according to their use of the services, so the more people that ride, the lower the cost per ride.”
To encourage more people to join the bus service, Wharton said the month of May will be free for all members, after the initial membership fee is paid.
From 8 p.m. on Friday until Saturday at 2:30 a.m., three minibuses – rented by a company in east Jerusalem that is licensed by the Transportation Ministry – will run hourly on a route with stops in Pisgat Ze’ev, Talpiot, Beit Hakerem, French Hill and Gilo.
“We have rented three minibuses but expect that already for the second week we will be making use of more,” said Wharton. “We hope to expand our services to include Saturdays and have already received a significant amount of requests to do so.”
Meanwhile, Yanay said Shabus already has received numerous service requests in other Jerusalem neighborhoods, but that any expansion will be voted on by the cooperative’s members.
One member, Tamar Mokady, said she hopes the service will provide a much-needed alternative for the city’s residents.
“Our goal is to enable all those who can’t afford a car, or do not want to drive on the Sabbath, to travel in Jerusalem,” she said.
Moreover, Mokady said the initiative was created partly to push the government – which first prohibited public transportation in Jerusalem in 1947due to ultra-Orthodox pressure – to address the needs of secular citizens and visitors.
“We want to pressure the state into allowing public transportation – both buses and tramways – to operate just like any other major city in the world,” she said. “We have been working for over a year on setting up Shabus and see it as a feasible solution for the many Jerusalemites – including young people, the elderly, and soldiers who have no way of getting around the city – even just to meet with friends or family, once the sun goes down.”
Mokady added that Shabus does not go into any neighborhood “in which transportation is limited on Shabbat, and we make great effort to be sensitive to the different populations of Jerusalem.”
Moreover, she said the service will use minibuses instead of full-sized buses, as suggested in the Gavison-Medan Covenant for secular-religious agreement.
“We do hope and expect that eventually the Ministry of Transportation will realize and accept that it should take upon itself the responsibility for providing public transportation for all residents of Jerusalem, including on Saturdays,” she said.
“In the meantime – and for as long as that takes – we intend to offer our cooperative transportation, and will keep running Shabus as a public service.”
The controversy over widespread Shabbat closures in the capital is not new.
The issue last made national headlines when Cinema City, the city’s largest multiplex, opened in February 2014 with the stipulation that it remain closed during the weekend, causing multiple protests among pluralistic activists.
Meanwhile, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said between 40 to 50 haredim briefly blocked a roadway near Kook Street in downtown Jerusalem on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. to protest the nascent bus line.
“The demonstrators peacefully dispersed when police arrived and no arrests were made,” he said.