Noa Tanua, a nonprofit cooperative that has been operating a bus line on the Jewish Sabbath for the past two years in the Tel Aviv area, launched a crowdfunding campaign two weeks ago designed to underwrite an additional route.
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The new line will coincide with route No. 18 of the Dan bus company, which on weekdays runs between the Arlosoroff station in north Tel Aviv and the cemetery in Bat Yam, a suburb located south of the city. The bus would stop at popular spots in central Tel Aviv such as Rabin Square and the seashore, along with Ichilov Hospital.
The association hopes to get the new bus line into service within two months, after funding half of the cost – 180,000 shekels (about $50,000) – itself and raising an equal amount via the Headstart website from the public. About 87,000 shekels have already been raised from 644 donors.
According to the website’s funding system, the money is transferred only if the full sum has been raised within the defined time period.
According to the Noa Tanua economic model, one must first pay a one-time fee of 20 shekels to join the cooperative, and download the HopOn app; a ticket costs 9 shekels. Over 1,500 members have joined the organization.
The existing Shabbat line, along Dan's No. 63 bus route, passes through Ramat Gan and Givatayim, just outside Tel Aviv, and then go into the city as far as the beach. It arrives at the stops every two hours on the hour (on even-number hours in the direction from Tel Aviv to Ramat Gan, and on odd hours in the opposite direction).
The number of passengers on the Noa Tanua Shabbat bus doubled in 2016 compared to the previous year, and totaled 150 passengers each weekend, throughout the summer. The annual expense of operating this line, some 250,000 shekels, was covered by private donors and by the bus fare.
At the same time, Noa Tanua added what it calls Yambus, which operates a bus on Shabbat from Be’er Sheva to the beach in Ashkelon during the summer. The association hopes that with another successful crowdfunding effort, it will be able to expand its service in Be’er Sheva, where there is a large student population, in addition to that offered in the Gush Dan, or Tel Aviv, area.
“Our goal is to close up shop when the government operates public transportation on Shabbat, but meanwhile to change the situation on the ground,” according to a statement by Noa Tanua.
Expanded public transportation on Shabbat "will enable anyone who owns a car and who wants to get around on the weekend to leave it at home, and it will significantly reduce the number of vehicles on the roads," says Lior Tavori, who is active in the nonprofit. "It will also help increase the demand for public transportation even in the middle of the week.
“There are a number of advantages to public transportation: fewer traffic jams, especially during rush hours; fewer traffic accidents, because public transportation is seven times as safe per kilometer as riding in a private car; and air pollution will decrease, since even if a bus pollutes – it’s still far cleaner when compared to the total pollution emitted by the dozens of cars that it is replacing.”
A number of private initiatives have been launched in recent years to fill the transportation vacuum on Shabbat. In addition to the activity of Noa Tanua, a similar project, called Shabus, operates in Jerusalem. Shabus runs between Kiryat Hayovel in southwestern Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, a community located east of the city. The fare is 12 shekels per person.
In 1991 a law was passed prohibiting the operation of public transportation on the Sabbath. Until then such arrangements relied on an verbal agreement from the days of the state’s establishment. In principle, buses and trains are subsidized by the government, and are therefore not allowed to operate on the weekend.
However, there are exceptions and buses do operate on Shabbat, for example, in Haifa and Eilat, in other outlying areas and in non-Jewish communities.
Every year the Knesset receives a number of proposals to advance public transportation on the Sabbath, but they are typically rejected out of hand.
According to a recent survey by the Social Economy Academy, a social-justice advocacy association, over 90 percent of secular Jews in Israel support such service. The most interesting finding was that among respondents from the religious community, a quarter of those polled (who have cars) replied that they are in favor of transportation on Shabbat.