Buses in Tel Aviv - Limor Edrei  - 21022012
Buses in Tel Aviv. Photo by Limor Edrei
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The Meretz party on Wednesday motioned the High Court of Justice to order the Transportation Ministry to accede to a request for buses to run in Tel Aviv on Shabbat. The rub is that, according to ministry officials, no such request was ever made by the Tel Aviv municipality.

The city confirms that but says the request is in process and will be made.

“The Transportation Ministry has not received any request from the Tel Aviv municipality to operate public transport on Shabbat. Hence there was no need to respond,” the ministry told the court on Wednesday. “This is a gimmick, public-relations spin from the House of Huldai,” the ministry went on to say, referring to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who has vowed to get buses running on Shabbat for the general public in the city.

“Regrettably, the petitioners based their motion on media reports without troubling to check the facts with the Transportation Ministry,” the ministry went on to state.
Two months ago the Tel Aviv city council voted in favor of the principle of allowing public transport on Shabbat. That same evening the Transportation Ministry announced it wouldn’t let it happen, in order not to upset the status quo.

Over at Meretz they claim that Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s decision is “unreasonable in the extreme” and fails to factor in all considerations.

Israel still operates according to a “transportation order” that dates from the time of the British Mandate. It includes regulations for companies that operate public buses. The order allows buses to run on Shabbat if they serve passengers traveling to hospitals, outlying towns, non-Jewish towns, or for any general reason such as being an essential bus line. Meretz argues that Tel Aviv-Jaffa fits at least some of these criteria − for example, by virtue of Jaffa being a mixed Arab-Jewish city.

Also, 40% of Tel Aviv’s residents don’t have cars, says Meretz, which requires that public transport be available for the sake of a just allocation of resources.
Ergo, says the party, the ministry could allow buses to run on Shabbat in Tel Aviv under the existent transportation order.

The bottom line, explains Tamar Zandberg, Meretz’s representative on the Tel Aviv city council, is that the party feels the transportation minister does not have the legal right to not even consider letting buses run in the city on Shabbat.
Possibly unmoved by the fact that the city never filed a request, the court gave the ministry until May 31 to respond to Meretz’s motion.

The Tel Aviv municipality said the Meretz motion had not been coordinated with municipality officials.

“Throughout his 13 years in office, the mayor has often voiced his views,” the city said in a statement. “But as stressed in and after the council meeting, in the State of Israel the authority to operate public transport on Shabbat belongs to the Transportation Ministry and as such, as the council decided, the city will act to submit an orderly, formal request to the Transportation
Ministry.”