An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man looks out from a condensation-covered window of a bus in Jerusalem December 11, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Five days ahead of fiercely contested municipal elections in Tel Aviv, the municipality has announced plans to significantly expand public transportation in the city on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
Like most Jewish-majority cities in Israel, buses and trains do not operate in Tel Aviv on Shabbat and holidays. According to an Israel Democracy Institute poll published in February, some 64% of the Jewish Israeli public believe that public transport should be provided seven days a week.
Under plans published Thursday in coordination with the Transport, National Infrastructures and Road Safety Ministry, the municipality will grant licenses for 24 new shared taxi routes to operate in the city on Shabbat. While bus companies are not permitted to run services in Tel Aviv on that day, shared taxi routes are not affected by similar prohibitions.
Based on plans initially developed by the municipality in 2012, eight shared taxi routes are expected to open in the coming year – four entirely new routes in addition to four routes based on those already operating in Tel Aviv. In a second stage of licensing, 16 additional routes will operate in the city.
“This is a real revolution. Well done to the transport minister who, after years, has approved the program to significantly expand the service, based on the municipality’s plans from 2012," Mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai said.
“This is a major change and a significant contribution to public transport movement every day of the week, including on Shabbat and holidays.”
The operator of the new routes, which will be decided through a tender process that is currently underway, will ultimately decide the nature and frequency of the service. The municipality believes, however, that the current level of demand will make operating the service on Shabbat financially worthwhile.
The planned routes, the municipality says, will grant most of Tel Aviv’s residents access to the city’s entertainment centers, hospitals and beaches throughout the week, boosting the capacity of the city’s existing public transport options.
National religious lobbying group Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah expressed its disappointment at the municipality’s announcement.
“The public pressure has borne fruit. It was clear that once Herzliya, Modi’in and Holon established services, Tel Aviv would also follow suit and establish limited public transportation on Shabbat,” the group said.
“It is a shame that this move was unilateral and not the result of a mutual understanding which might have brought about an agreement to limit the extent of private business operation on Shabbat.”
The group called on the Knesset to establish an agreed policy regarding religious observance in the public domain, prior to its dissolution ahead of the next parliamentary elections.
Earlier this month, Huldai and Transportation Minister Israel Katz clashed over the stalled construction of a pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the city’s Ayalon Highway. Plans were frozen due to the ultra-Orthodox objecting to construction
work on Shabbat.
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