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Tel Aviv Municipality examining free public transport system for Shabbat

The Tel Aviv Municipal Authority is examining the feasibility of introducing a free public transport system on Shabbat for its residents.

A report in The Marker on Thursday laid out in-depth details regarding a city wide public transportation scheme currently being planned, and said that the municipal authority would soon issue a tender to find an operator.

A spokeswoman for the Tel Aviv Municipal Authority said however that “the issue is in its first stages,” and that the publication of a tender was not imminent.

Public transport on Shabbat is prohibited by law, but some cities, such as Jerusalem and Ramat Gan, have circumvented this law either by making the rides free or setting up the system whereby passengers pay an annual or quarterly fee instead of paying on the bus itself.

Such an operation is therefore not defined as public transport and can operate freely.

According to the report in The Marker, the system under discussion for Tel Aviv would be free for passengers and be paid for by the municipal authority.

It would comprise five separate bus lines and utilize 40 buses, which would come every 15 to 30 minutes from 8pm Friday night until two hours before sunrise, and from 9am until the end of Shabbat on Saturday.

Some 80 percent of Tel Aviv residents would be within 600 meters of a bus stop, and would also connect passengers to the points of departure and arrival of private, intercity minibuses which operated in the Central District region.

The system would be free for everyone initially, but if there is excessive demand it could be limited to Tel Aviv residents only. 

Director of the Israel Be Free religious freedom organization Uri Keidar noted that there is widespread public support for public transport on Shabbat and said Tel Aviv’s initiative, if it comes to fruition, was significant progress.

“This is the result of one of the most just social struggles that we have been conducting in recent years,” said Keidar.

“Tel Aviv, together with Ramat Gan, Herzliya, Modiin and others are the spearhead on the way to to true freedom of movement for all Israeli citizens who want to go the sea, to visit their grandparents outside of the city, or even to the hospital,” said Keidar.

According to the religion and state index of the Hiddush religious pluralism organization in 2018,  72% of those polled said they backed some or full public transport on Shabbat.

“Israeli governments of the Right, Left, and Center have sold out the public to the ultra-Orthodox religious parties over the years, and now a window has opened for an opportunity to rectify this, with the new year,” said Hiddush director Regev, who praised the Tel Aviv municipal authority for doing “what the politicians don’t dare to do.”

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