Smotrich: People to use public transport only for what the gov’t wants

No transport after 8 p.m. on weekdays – and none at all on weekends. But unless businesses are closed completely, people will still need to get to work, go shopping and do errands.

‘WITHIN ANY arrangement in Israel it is critical to ensure that no one is forced to work on Shabbat, as in the case of bus drivers or construction workers.’ (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘WITHIN ANY arrangement in Israel it is critical to ensure that no one is forced to work on Shabbat, as in the case of bus drivers or construction workers.’
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich said on Tuesday that from now on, public transportation should only be used to allow people to leave their residence to do things the government has ruled are necessary, due to the nationwide state of emergency brought on by the novel coronavirus outbreak. This means that some stops and routes will be changed or even canceled.  
“You are not going to be able to visit your parents during Shabbat,” he said, “you could infect them with the virus.”  
He added that those who study in religious schools should also be at home because the schools have been shut down.       
Public transportation will stop at 8 p.m. on weeknights and not be available at all on weekends, Maariv reported Tuesday. The first night of early closure will be Tuesday night at 10 p.m.  
The new regulations were introduced by National Public Transportation Authority director Amir Asraf.  
Transportation service for the weekends will cease on Thursdays at 8 p.m. and only resume early Sunday morning. The regulations apply to buses, trains and the light rail.   
The measures are part of a stricter level of nationwide self-quarantine in an effort to slow the novel coronavirus outbreak.   
Some experts warned, however, that the measures could increase the likelihood of coronavirus infections rather than decrease it, Ynet reported.
Many Israelis, especially those who have trouble traveling, such as the elderly, are dependent on public transportation. Research carried out by the Bank of Israel in 2019 showed that "entry-level workers and those at lower socioeconomic status are characterized by higher usage of buses and shuttles organized by companies."
The Central Bureau of Statistics reported that 57.2% of families from the lower socioeconomic decile did not own a private vehicle in 2018. In the fourth decile, 33.2% of families did not own a private vehicle.
Although fewer people will use public transportation due to the coronavirus outbreak, decreased availability may not be desirable, Prof. Erel Avineri, Head of Graduate Specialization, Engineering and Management of Infrastructure Systems at Afeka College told Ynet.
“In research conducted on SARS, it was proven that every time they spoke about the outbreak in media, there was a decline of 1,200 subway users in Taiwan, although it rose in return over time,” he said. “Meaning, the public is in shock right now, but with time, people will need to travel again, and public transportation is necessary because not everyone has a car.”
“A sweeping and lateral decision to reduce [public transportation] is problematic,” Avineri said. “There are workplaces that will remain open, and there are essential services that citizens will go to, so that, in general, public transportation is an essential thing.
“This is a challenging period that demands more complexity concerning making decisions. On the one hand, to lead to a proportionate reduction [of public transportation], and on the other hand, to not increase the crowding on lines, which could increase infections. The elderly, for example, rely on public transportation, and their mortality rates from the coronavirus are higher. Therefore, in certain areas, there should even be considerations for increased public transportation.”
Transportation analyst Nachman Shelef told Ynet there are bus lines that should be reduced, such as those that go to educational institutions or industrial zones, but an overall reduction could increase crowding on busy lines.
“I hope they're considering this factor, especially when most of those making the decisions use a private vehicle and therefore don't understand what it means to be dependent on public transportation rather than a car,” he said.
The situation is still unfolding, so it is still unclear what lines should be reduced, Shelef said.
Shimrit Nutman, chairwoman of the 15 Minutes Public Transportation Alliance organization, an NGO that advocates for better public transportation, warned against a widespread reduction of public transportation. Unless businesses are closed completely, people will need to get to work, go shopping and do errands, and they will need to use public transportation to do so, she said.
The number of travelers on Israel Railways declined at least 50% on Monday, although Egged bus lines had their normal amount of passengers, Ynet reported.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the disinfection of buses and trains last week. No official directive has been received by public transportation operators and Israel Railways. The companies began disinfection operations on their own.