Tel Aviv, other cities, announce pilot for Shabbat bus service

Hardline religious-Zionist org: This is a dangerous trend which is trying to eradicate any memory of Judaism.

A bus travels along Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv (photo credit: BORIS BELENKIN)
A bus travels along Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv
(photo credit: BORIS BELENKIN)
The Tel Aviv city council approved by a majority of 19 to 6 a public transportation service for  Shabbat that will cover the entire city, as well as other major cities in the central district.
The proposals were first announced last month and have now been formally approved by the municipal council.
Public transportation on Shabbat is largely prohibited throughout the country, with a few exceptions, but some municipalities have in recent years adopted public transportation services which differ from the legal definition, thus allowing them to bypass the restrictions.
On Tuesday night, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipal Authority approved a NIS 1.5 million budget for the operation of an intercity minibus service involving seven separate lines, which would travel between, and through, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Givatayim, Kiryat Ono, and Ramat Hasharon.
A spokesperson for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality said the network would being operations “in the coming weeks.”
The participating municipalities said the service would initially be free, indicating that a permanent service may involve payment.
In order not to come under the legal definition of public transport it is essential that the service not collect money from passengers when they board the ride.
Even if payment is required in the future, there are ways of collecting money for the service which would still ensure that it is not defined as public transport. In Jerusalem, for example, the Shabus minibus service has a system whereby passengers pay an annual or quarterly fee instead of paying on the bus itself.
The cost for operating the new Gush Dan bus service annually would be NIS 12.5 million.
“The network of metropolitan transport joins the shuttle services of the Transportation Ministry, and the partnership initiatives which Tel Aviv-Jaffa operates, Otottal and Tal Ofen,” said Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai announcing the upcoming transportation service. “Their goal is to provide a solution to the increasing demands of the public for the creation of mobility solutions for the entire week, and to create transportation alternatives which will help reduce the need for residents and visitors to have a private vehicle, and will reduce their usage. This will contribute to a reduction in the cost of living, will ease problems with transportation and parking [in the city] and provide mobility for weaker sections of the population who do not have private vehicles.”
Ultra-Orthodox MK Uri Maklev of the United Torah Judaism party denounced the initiative and called on Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the religious-Zionist Bayit Yehudi party to stymie the newly announced Shabbat transportation system.
“The day of rest is determined by the central government and not by local government, and it is forbidden to allow populist decisions of local governments to dictate the status quo in the country,” said Maklev.
The hard-line conservative religious-Zionist Hotam organization said the decision would “harm Shabbat in these cities,” and that the initiative was “part of a larger campaign over the Jewish identity of the state which demonstrates that the mayor of Tel Aviv is establishing a state within a state and is trying to undermine the foundations of the Jewish state.”
In a statement to the press, Hotam added that “This is a dangerous trend which is trying to eradicate any memory of Judaism.”
The Israel Be Free secularist organization said however that Huldai and the other mayors partnering in the new transportation system should be praised for their initiative.
“Those who think it is possible to return Israel to the medieval era has received today a reminder that they are a fringe group who will not stop progress in the State of Israel,” said Israel Be Free director Uri Keidar. “Public transport is a basic right, on Shabbat as on any other day, and soon in our days we will see the trains running and will bring Israel up to the standards appropriate for 2019.”