Those who have ever traveled in Israel, let alone live here, will already know one important tip: “Don’t forget that from Friday evening until Saturday night, there are no buses. It’s Shabbat!” But that might soon be changing in Tel Aviv, to the delight of some, and the chagrin of others.
Last week, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Council approved a budget of NIS 1.5 million to finance an intercity minibus service on Shabbat. This will be done in cooperation with the nearby cities of Givatayim, Kiryat Ono and Ramat Hasharon, which will be connected on the weekend via seven different bus lines with the metropolis.
Actually, public transport on Shabbat is prohibited by law in Israel, with a few exceptions. Some places have introduced public transport services in recent years, but they deviate from the legal definition so they can bypass the prohibition. The same will be true of the Tel Aviv scheme. In order not to fall under the legal definition of public transport, it is important that the service does not collect money from passengers while driving. The participating cities said the service would initially be free, but that could change soon. Even if payments will be required in the future, there are ways to raise money for the service that would nonetheless ensure that it is not defined as public transport.
The cost of operating the new bus system would amount to NIS 12.5 million per year. It is scheduled to begin operating by the end of the year.
If successful, the plan could greatly reduce congestion in the area, a popular weekend destination for Israelis from around the country who, due to the lack of public transportation on Shabbat, all arrive in their own private vehicles.
Of course, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is displeased by the plan. Member of Knesset Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) urged the Ministry of Transportation to block the Tel Aviv plan, stating that “the laws pertaining to the day of rest are determined by the national government, and not local municipalities. It is dangerous to let populist decisions by local governments determine the current state of affairs in the country.”
The secular “Israel Be Free” (Israel Hofsheet) movement countered by insisting that “public transportation is a fundamental right, even on the Sabbath. Soon we will also see trains running on Shabbat, and thus bring Israel into the modern era.”