Israeli Minister Moves Ahead With Shabbat Public Transport

Transportation Minister Michaeli is still hoping to get backing from Prime Minister Bennett and his party for proposed regulations, but the odds are considered slim

Omer Carmon
Omer Carmon
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Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli speaks at a Labor Party meeting, earlier this month.
Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli speaks at a Labor Party meeting, earlier this month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Omer Carmon
Omer Carmon

Israeli Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli released on Monday proposed regulations allowing public transport on Shabbat, a longtime matter of dispute between secular and religious Israelis.

The new regulations, which are now open to public comments, would enable both public and private entities to be licensed for transport using vehicles carrying eight or more passengers. Thus, companies like Uber that transport smaller groups still wouldn't able to enter the Israeli market through these changes.

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Michaeli hopes Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his Yamina party will back the regulations because her ministry is not subsidizing the initiative and customers will pay through an app, so drivers won’t have to collect money. Still, her odds of garnering support across the coalition are narrow, given the fact that a similar policy was struck from legislation just two months ago.

Associates of Michaeli defended the move, saying that she is not proposing public transportation on Shabbat but rather a private, cooperative system enabling free enterprise. She said the new system will provide transportation mainly to job sites and in rural areas.

Public transportation in and between predominantly Jewish localities on Shabbat is illegal, except in Haifa and its suburbs, Eilat and Nof Hagalil. Intercity buses from remote areas are permitted a few hours before the end of Shabbat. In addition, a few taxi lines operate under license from the Transportation Ministry, mainly along the coastal cities and in central Israel.

Private initiatives providing Shabbat transportation have relied on a loophole in the law allowing the operation of rides for members of a collective. Anyone seeking to use public transportation on Shabbat has paid membership fees to a given collective.

Cooperatives that have used this loophole include Shabus, Noa Tanua and Kfar Sabus.

“We welcome the move to advance private Shabbat transportation,” Shabus, a company that has used this loophole, said. “At the same time, it’s important for us to recall that the government is the one responsible for providing its citizens freedom of movement seven days a week, and placing responsibility on private initiatives (like us) is no long-term solution.”

Noa Tanua commented: “Kudos to Minister Michaeli and all partners making it possible for everyone to choose how to get around on Shabbat. We’ve worked many years to promote such a move, and we are happy to find real partners for this vision in the Transportation Ministry.”

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