Israel Needs a Transportation Movement

Considering that there are so many in Israel who are unable to afford a car, we must provide public transportation on the Sabbath and holidays.

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The Jerusalem Light Rail. Not coming to a station near you on the Sabbath.Credit: Gili Yaari

Seder night is etched in my memory as a trauma. We used to celebrate it at my aunt’s house in Bat Yam. At that time, many years ago, my parents didn’t have a car, so we would have to take the last bus and get to Bat Yam early. Because my parents felt uncomfortable arriving at my aunt’s so early, we would wander around the neighborhood for about two hours, and only then would we go up to her apartment.

At the end of the seder, we spent the night in her apartment, in cramped conditions, on mattresses spread out on the floor. The next day, we were forced to spend the entire day waiting for the end of the holiday; for the moment when the bus service would resume and we would finally be able to return home.

Today, decades later, there are still many families who don’t own a car, and therefore can’t arrive at the seder whenever they want. And when the seventh day of Passover ends as the Sabbath begins, as it did this year, they are actually stuck at home for three days. They can’t visit their son who stayed in the army for Shabbat duty, or meet friends and family unless the latter come to them. In the summer, they can’t drive to the beach on the Sabbath, or to any other event.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) thinks that’s all fine. He says that Israel is “a Jewish and democratic state, and as such it must protect unique rules connected to its identity, while on a personal level every individual is free to do as he or she pleases.”

“Free to do as he or she pleases”? That’s the height of hypocrisy. After all, the state shackles anyone without a private car to his home. Israel is the only country in the world without public transportation on the Sabbath and holidays.

That’s why we should forbid Katz to use his state-provided car on Shabbat and holidays, so he’ll feel what it’s like to be stuck at home. Maybe then he’ll understand.

Katz claims that all those leading the campaign for public transportation on the Sabbath are left-wing activists who want to bring down the government. But what about senior Likudniks such as Gilad Erdan, Yuli Edelstein, Zeev Elkin, Michael Eitan and Tzachi Hanegbi, who in the past have spoken out in favor of public transportation on Shabbat on a partial basis?

Katz’s cynical policy is only another aspect of the greatest civic failure that has been occurring here for many years: the public transportation failure. We trail far behind the Western world when it comes to trains and buses. There is no rail system here worthy of the name, and the service the public receives from the Egged and Dan bus companies is beneath contempt. In Europe and North America, when you wait at a bus stop you know exactly when the bus will arrive. Everything is listed. Here, there are places where a person stands helpless, lacking any information, and prays to the goddess of luck.

To that, we should add the screwup of the light rail in Tel Aviv, for which Katz deserves considerable “credit.” In 2010, he pressured for the job to be transferred from the private franchisee to government-owned NETA, the urban transportation company. This may be good for political appointments and accumulating power, but it’s very bad for the citizens. The project that was once budgeted at 11 billion shekels ($2.8 billion) has already soared to 16 billion shekels. And instead of launching in 2016, the light rail may be ready in 2022. A real disgrace.

To that we should add the mess of widening Route 1 to Jerusalem, which was supposed to be done years ago, and the many delays in laying the express rail line to Jerusalem. A special chapter should be dedicated to the nonexistent transportation infrastructure in the Arab sector. Taken together, everything harms employment, productivity and everyone’s standard of living.

Since those old seder nights, my aunt died and we have our own car. But while there are so many who remain unable to afford a car, basic justice demands public transportation on the Sabbath and holidays. The weaker classes and the poor are also entitled to freedom of movement.

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