One of the most serious mistakes made by the Lapid-Bennett government was not deciding in favor of allowing the greater Tel Aviv light rail to operate on Shabbat.
Extraordinary political circumstances led to the establishment of a government without the ultra-Orthodox parties, which would have vetoed such a decision. For the first time, there was enough support inside the government for the light rail to operate on Shabbat, including from former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Finance Minister Avgidor Lieberman.
But because the coalition was so fragile, Michaeli decided not to press the issue. It would be because of others, not because of her, that the trains don’t run on Shabbat. That was a major missed opportunity, and the result is that a very important service will be denied to the secular, traditional and Arab public on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
The first section of the light rail (the Red Line) is to be inaugurated in November, around the time of the election. This is not a line that will revolutionize Tel Aviv’s transportation chaos, but it’s an essential start. Eventually, two more light rail lines and three metro lines will come into service.
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The importance of the first line is in creating a new alternative for people who use public transportation, mainly those who can’t afford a car. But if the light rail doesn’t operate on Shabbat, they will have no way of traveling on weekends and Jewish holidays. It will also increase congestion on the roads leading into and out of the city. It won’t provide a real solution to Tel Aviv’s labyrinthine transportation tangle, which exacts a price in pollution, wasted time and road accidents.
The first line is also very important because it will establish a precedent for the lines that follow: If the Red Line doesn’t operate on Shabbat, it’s very likely that the other lines won’t either.
Efficient public transportation is essential for overcrowded Israel, whose population will reach 10 million in two years and 13 million by 2040. Due to natural population growth and lengthening lifespans, the two groups that will be growing the most are the young and the old, both of whom are major users of public transportation. This challenge – which unlike other challenges that can be put off – will brook no delay. What the next government decides will determine the future of transportation in greater Tel Aviv, and its impact will be felt in many realms.
If opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu forms a right-wing-Haredi coalition, that will be the end of the story. This is therefore another reason not to vote for Netanyahu, who has linked his future legal status to the ultra-Orthodox parties that want to continue denying basic services that benefit the majority in Israel, like public transportation on Shabbat.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.