On the Road to a Revolution: Tel Aviv to Fund Buses on Shabbat

Tel Aviv municipality to issue tender for private concessionaire to operate free bus services on weekends and Jewish holidays

A bus in Tel Aviv, April 12, 2019.
Moti Milrod

In the coming weeks, the Tel Aviv municipality will issue a tender to select a concessionaire to operate a city bus service on Shabbat and holidays. The service will comprise five bus lines that will operate from 8 P.M. Friday until 2 A.M. Saturday and again from 9 A.M. Saturday until the end of Shabbat.

The network of routes will enable riders to travel throughout Tel Aviv with no more than two transfers, as on weekdays. By a conservative estimate, the service will ensure that 80 percent of Tel Aviv residents have access to a bus stop no more than 600 meters from their home and their destination. The network will also connect riders to the boarding and alighting points of the inter-city service taxis that operate on Shabbat.

Buses on each of the new lines will depart every 20 to 30 minutes. On segments where the lines overlap, in the center of the city and on main roads in the northern and southern neighborhoods, the frequency will increase to 10 to 15 minutes, so travel time can be shortened by transferring between lines.

Traveling on public transportation in Tel Aviv on the weekend will be free and in the initial phase, the service will be open to all. However, the city has the legal right to stipulate that riders must show a Tel Aviv resident ID.

The Tel Aviv municipality is also looking to collaborate with other local authorities, far and near. In recent months, emissaries from the mayor’s office have fanned out to discuss the possibility with officials in other Gush Dan municipalities, and offered that they could take part in the service for a cost of between a quarter-million and half-million shekels annually, to cover the costs of extending the bus lines to them.

Operating five bus lines on the weekends requires a fleet of 40 buses and 50 drivers. Based on current market prices, the cost of running a service this size is about 250,000 shekels per weekend ($71,000), or about 12 million shekels per year.

Noa Tanua, a nonprofit cooperative that operates transportation on Shabbat in a number of Israeli cities, was involved in formulating the tender for operating the new Tel Aviv service. People from the organization will work for the municipality in operating the service, though the details of this arrangement have yet to be provided.

Rabbi Uri Regev, director of Hiddush – for Religious Freedom and Equality said that he welcomes the initiative, which he called "a continuation of the new approach being taken by mayors who are doing what the politicians in the Knesset and the government don’t have the guts to do. Tel Aviv is doing what most of the public throughout the country desires: Surveys by Hiddush have found that 70 percent of people support limited public transportation on Shabbat, and 66 percent favor decisions on these matters being left up to the local authorities and not to the Interior Minister.”

Tani Frank, head of religion and state issues at Ne’emanei Torah va’Avodah, said that “the Tel Aviv municipality is joining the list of cities and local authorities that have stopped waiting for the government to act on this issue and are running limited public transportation on Shabbat. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The policy of inactivity and deciding not to decide that has gone on for many years is prompting the local authorities to act independently.”