Tel Aviv’s new transportation initiative is deserving of all praise. Finally, public transportation will be available to the city’s residents on Shabbat and Jewish holidays — a fundamental service largely denied to them, and to most Israelis, as a result of the complex relationship between the state and religion.
Within a few weeks the municipality is expected to issue a call for proposals to operate a free bus service, starting in January, during Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Around 85 percent of the city’s residents will be within a 10-minute walk from a bus stop, with routes that will cover most of the city.
This is a suitable and necessary solution for the unconscionable situation in which, under the cover of the status quo, only car owners can travel freely on Shabbat. Everyone else must either limit their leisure activities on days of rest and holidays to their area of residence, or pay for a taxi ride. The shortcomings of public transportation in Israel also prevents many people who would otherwise be interested in giving up their private vehicles, for economic or environmental reasons, from doing so.
The initiative of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai joins the expanding trend of mayors who understand that they have the responsibility, and the power, to fill the vacuum in services and needs that the national government does not provide. There is considerable logic in reassigning some of the authority over matters of religion and state in the public sphere from the interior minister to the local governments, which better understand the needs of residents.
Meanwhile, the Tel Aviv suburbs of Ramat Gan, Givatayim and Ramat Hasharon have expressed interest in the initiative and even a willingness to share the cost. Unfortunately, willingness is not enough; they must also be able to pay for this expensive service. Holon, and especially Bat Yam, are relatively poor cities, and will therefore be dependent on the willingness of the more prosperous cities in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area to subsidize the service in their jurisdiction. What’s absurd is that the residents of these cities also tend to be poorer, and most do not own a car.
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Most Israelis support public transportation, even if only partial, on Shabbat. Kahol Lavan, Yisrael Beiteinu, the Labor Party, the Democratic Union and the Joint List support it. So do parts of Likud, although they have chosen to remain silent now due to their obligations to the political bloc that also includes religious parties.
This is an issue that transcends political camps and concerns a fundamental civic right. Huldai’s courageous act should be welcomed. We can only hope that the new Knesset will be imbued with the same spirit and will lead a revolution in transportation services and provide them even on Shabbat, without discriminating between the center of the country and the outlying areas, rich and poor, large and small communities.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.