Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is joining calls to operate public transportation on Shabbat. In a status published on his Facebook page he wrote: Israel
is the only state in the world where for a quarter of the days in every year there is no public transportation on holidays and Shabbat.
"We must ask ourselves – what does a person who can't afford to buy a car and wants to visit his family or go to the beach do?"
Huldai declared that the current situation, side by side with the lack of an efficient public transportation system "damages the proper development of the State and the public's ability to give up their expensive and polluting private vehicles."
He believes there is one target to point fingers at – the Transportation Ministry: "The ministry is the body responsible for public transportation. I expect the ministry and the government to listen to the voice of the public and operate public transportation on weekends and holidays."
As part of a new campaign, some 100 Free Israel activists stood at bus stops throughout Tel Aviv last weekend and "waited" for the buses while waving signs that read "waiting for the bus on Shabbat."
Free Israel Chairman Mickey Gitzin explains: "There's no law that forbids public transportation in Israel on Shabbat. You need approval from the Transport Ministry and our Tel Aviv branch decided to promote dialogue on the subject.
Waiting for the bus... on Shabbat (Photo: Eyal Yaski Weiss)
"We're meeting with city officials with the goal of moving the issue to a municipal level. Some cities like Eilat and Haifa have public transportation on Shabbat. There is no conceivable reason why there should not be public transportation in Tel Aviv on Shabbat where the demand and need are high."
And what about legislative change? Last June a bill proposed by Knesset Member Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) seeking to allow public transportation to run on Shabbat was rejected.
A majority of MKs in the plenum opposed the proposal claiming it was in direct opposition to the status quo and would hurt public feeling.
Tel Aviv Councilman Binyamin Babayof (Shas) is opposed to public transportation on Shabbat: "I suggest that first of all they take care of the fact that public transportation during the week is among the worst in the world… Shabbat is a day off. You cannot compel people to drive on it. Whoever proposes and votes in favor of this proposal should be ashamed.
"The first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff sought to consider the feelings of Tel Aviv's religious residents. Even communist regimes took that sector into consideration," he said.
"Tel Aviv is a mixed city, we need to promote unity and this move would divide the religious residents from the rest of the residents. Were this to go ahead we will not sit quietly, we will go out and protest."
The Transportation Ministry spokesman, Avner Ovadia said in response: "Shabbat and rest day public transportation service lines have been regulated in accordance with the Knesset decision from 1991 and transportation regulations.
"According to that decision, there are lines which are allowed to operate before Shabbat comes out and lines allowed to operate after Shabbat comes out. The Transportation Ministry maintains the status quo according to the Knesset decision and regulations on the matter of operating bus lines on Shabbat and rest days."