Bike sharing scheme coming to Jerusalem but Shabbat war looms

As with many things in Jerusalem, the new initiative has created the possibility of a Shabbat war between the Haredi and non-Haredi political factions in the Jerusalem Municipal Council.

Bike rental in Tel Aviv  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Bike rental in Tel Aviv
London, Paris, New York, Copenhagen and Tel Aviv and other cities around the world have all in recent years developed bicycle share systems to ease up congestion, reduce air pollution and promote exercise.
Now, it seems, Jerusalem is looking to get in on the pedal-powered action as well.
To this end, the local Yerushalmim party has begun the process of investigating and exploring the options for establishing a bike sharing scheme in Jerusalem and the party believes it will be possible to install the system by the end of 2016.
Like the recent opening of the Yes Planet cinema complex and the Jerusalem Municipality’s decision to enforce Shabbat closure orders for city center mini-markets, the proposed initiative entails the possibility of a Shabbat war between haredi (ultra-Ortho - dox) and non-haredi factions in City Council.
Whether or not riding a bicycle on Shabbat is prohibited by Jewish law has been the subject of debate, although most rabbinic authorities have ruled that it is not permissible.
The proposed Jerusalem bike scheme would also likely be a “smart” system, operated electronically – possibly through the existing Rav Kav smart ride card. The use of electricity on Shabbat is prohibited by all Orthodox interpretations.
Representatives of the United Torah Judaism Party on the council spoke out strongly on Monday against the possible operation of the bikes on Shabbat, saying that it would be a mass desecration of the holy day.
The Yerushalmim Party, headed by Tamir Nir, along with other municipal factions, are insisting however that the bike sharing scheme be operated on Shabbat in order to allow tourists and residents to take advantage of it.
Nir said, however, that the stations set up in haredi neighborhoods would not operate on Shabbat.
The proposed bike system would initially consist of 500 bicycles and approximately 50 pick-up and drop-off stations, mainly in the city center, with stations at light rail stops and also in areas not well served by public transportation.
It is thought that the project would cost approximately NIS 10 million to establish and another NIS 1.5 million to service and maintain every year.
A large part of the cost for creating the system would be paid for by the Transport Ministry, while it is hoped that the bike sharing scheme will pay for itself.
Subscriber systems would be put in place for regular users, but it is hoped that one-off users will provide the biggest income revenue, whether it is tourists or other similar riders.
If the system is successfully established, a future second stage could see it rolled out to other parts of the city, including stations being set up along routes leading to the city’s universities, the Knesset and other popular locales.
“In Europe, many cities are trying to establish their bike-sharing schemes as one of the three major systems of transport, along with private vehicles and public transport,” Nir told The Jerusalem Post.
“These bicycle projects mean that there are fewer car collisions, less vehicular traffic, and less pollution, meaning an increase in quality of life in the city.
“It is also an important factor for tourism and is a great way for tourists to get around the city, especially bearing in mind the mayor’s goal of getting five million tourists a year here.”
Nir said it is important that the system be able to pay for itself and claimed that it would not be financially viable if it were not operated on Shabbat.
Nir also noted that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has given Yerushalmim his support to begin the project and said that he expected him to back the scheme’s operation on Shabbat.
“We will fight against it determinedly for the bicycles to be available on Shabbat, and the demand that it not be available is outrageous. If the mayor wants to be with the pluralist community then he needs to be in favor of this project and vote in favor of it.
“The non-haredi community does not tell the haredi public how it should behave on Shabbat and we will not be told what we can and cannot do either,” Nir said.
Deputy Mayor Yisrael Kellerman of United Torah Judaism told the Post that the party will seek the advice of the leading rabbis as to whether using the bikes would be prohibited on Shabbat and whether or not the haredi political factions would oppose the initiative.
He said however that UTJ was in favor of the project in general, but that having it operate on Shabbat was not acceptable.
“If the municipality is a partner in this project then it cannot be open on Shabbat, and there cannot be any profit-making on Shabbat,” he told the Post . “Shabbat in Jerusalem is observed. That is our position. It is the status quo and I do not think that the mayor will support it being operated on Shabbat.”