A Shabbat public transportation system in central Israel is due to launch its operations this coming weekend, marking a significant shift in Israel, where most public transport doesn't operate on the Jewish day of rest.
The weekend rides will operate in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Givatayim, Kiryat Ono and Ramat Hasharon, and the service will be free of charge. Local officials say other cities are also expected to join the network.
According to the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, who initiated the move, the network of intercity routes will operate on weekends and connect the cities in an efficient way, to complement public transportation on weekdays.
The system will be operated by shared taxi sherut firm Sherut Lines 4, 5 Ltd., which currently operates shared taxi lines in Tel Aviv seven days a week.
The system includes six routes, about 300 kilometers in length in total, with over 500 bus stops. The 19-seat minibuses will run during hours when there is no public transportation on Shabbat.
The minibuses will be numbered from 705 to 710, and stops will be labeled.
The service will operate from 6 P.M. to 2 A.M. on Fridays and from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. on Saturdays. The minibuses will set out regularly at half-hour intervals, on the hour and the half hour, with the exception of Bus 710 from Kiryat Ono, which will set out every hour on the hour.
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The initial budget for operating the transportation system, which was approved in the finance committee of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality about two weeks ago, is about 1.5 million shekels ($433,000) up to the end of 2019. The annual cost of the project is estimated at about 12.5 million shekels, and is expected to increase should more cities join.
“After weeks of work with the neighboring local councils, we have succeeded in implementing a shared, pioneering initiative that will bring about a significant change in the entire metropolitan area,” said Meital Lehavi, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, who was in charge of the initiative in the municipality.
“This is not another occasional bus line to the beach or the park, but a metropolitan network of routes that will eventually expand to additional local authorities and will provide frequent and efficient weekend transportation to provide mobility for everyone, and during the first stage, free of charge. During Road Safety Week, we must stress that the initiative will make it possible to provide a vital and life-saving service on the weekends, and not only as an expression of social justice and environmental awareness.”
“The ability to travel from place to place every day of the week is a basic right,” said Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai. “The project is designed to fill the transportation needs of a large population in Israel, in the absence of government-sponsored public transportation.”
Suburb opts out
The Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, a city with ideal conditions for joining the venture, chose not to do so. The city suffers from overcrowding, a parking problem, and a large secular population. Including an older population that makes more use of public transport during the week, and is therefore also limited on weekends.
The choice of Ramat Gan's mayor not to join the Tel Aviv initiative is unclear to some of those involved. Internal Sources say that this decision was largely driven by ego considerations and the desire to be portrayed as leading the project. The decision not to join the project for lack of credit has hampered not only the necessary mobility of the residents of Ramat Gan, but also the residents of Kiryat Ono, whose bus frequencies will drop and cost of service for them will increase.
On the other hand, according to the Ramat Gan municipality, the choice not to join and run an independent service allowed it greater independence and flexibility, at the same cost as it would have paid if it had joined the project.