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The Ministry of Transportation will today decide whether to approve the Dan bus company's request to discontinue its services on Saturday afternoons, a decision that one secular MK called a sign of "creeping religious coercion."

Dan, which operates numerous bus lines in the Tel Aviv area, currently runs a number that start at 4:00 P.M. on Saturdays, before the end of the Jewish Sabbath when most public transportation is suspended. Its decision to postpone the start of its service on Saturdays to 6:00 P.M. during the winter and 9:00 P.M. in the summer - after the Sabbath ends - was announced over the past few days in notices put up at the company's stations.

Neither the Ministry of Transportation nor the Tel Aviv municipality had prior notification of Dan's decision. Officials said they learned about it from yesterday's Haaretz.

"They need to make a request and we have to approve it," Ministry of Transportation officials demanded, claiming changes to bus timetables required their authorization. Failure to do so, officials said, would revoke the company's license. Later yesterday, Dan handed over a request to the ministry, which is expected to make its decision today.

Secular MKs were up in arms lambasting the company's decision, which they claimed upset the status quo between secular and religious Jews.

"This is a clandestine snatch and a serious blow to the public, which uses the public transportation," said MK Ran Cohen (Meretz). Cohen also asked Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz to intervene to reverse the decision.

"This is creeping religious coercion," added MK Dov Khanin (Hadash), while MK Eitan Cable (Labor) added: "It is our common failure that there is no public transportation on Saturdays."

On the other end of the religious spectrum, MK Nissan Slomiansky (National Religious Party) claimed Dan had been violating the law that forbids public transportation running on the Sabbath.

Dan Fixman, a spokesperson for Dan, said the decision had no relation to the Jewish Sabbath.

"The decision was purely financial, and has no connection to the status quo," Fixman said. He added that surveys showed that low demand during those hours did not justify operating the buses, and that the company functions according to economic realities that its buses "do not operate where there are no passengers."

In all, some nine lines are slated to cease operating on Saturday afternoons, including the central lines 1 in Holon and 9 in Tel Aviv. Soldiers returning from holidays, visitors to hospitals and foreign laborers are expected be most affected by the decision.