Tel Aviv’s municipality and the Transportation Ministry are advancing a plan to introduce more public transportation in the city on Saturdays, the Jewish day of rest, beginning next spring.
Just five days before municipal elections, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who is a front-runner by a narrow margin in the race according to polls, announced the plan to increase the number of transportation routes crisscrossing the city on Shabbat from four to 24. Shared taxis operate on a set route, like buses, but are run by private companies that have the rights to a particular route.
Many residents in the primarily secular city have for years demanded public transportation on Saturdays. Though the issue forms a central part of the platforms of almost all the Tel Aviv mayoral candidates, such plans have typically been thwarted by the national government, where ultra-Orthodox parties hold significant power.
The plan is based on a proposal sent by the municipality to the Transportation Ministry in 2012. The first phase will introduce tenders for eight shared-taxi routes, half of them new and half based on existing routes.
Unlike buses, shared taxis are free to operate on Shabbat, and whether they do so will be up to the operator, which is selected through a government tender.
In the second phase, 16 more routes will be added, operating through the metropolis.
The tender for the first phase has already been published and those routes are set to start operating next year, the report said.
While Huldai hailed the project as a “true revolution” and praised Transportation Minister Israel Katz for approving it, his main rival in the mayoral race called it “spin.”
“Tel Aviv-Jaffa residents already understand that what hasn’t been advanced in 20 years won’t be advanced [now],” said Deputy Mayor Asaf Zamir, who also supports public transportation on Shabbat.
Huldai and Katz have sparred several times in recent years over transportation and other Shabbat issues.
Most recently, in August the Tel Aviv mayor accused the government of turning the country into a theocracy after the transportation minister halted bridge construction work planned for Shabbat in the wake of objections from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers.
“Instead of leading a democratic country according to sensible methods, they are making it a theocracy,” Huldai told Army Radio at the time, after Katz ordered that the Ayalon Highway Co. find alternatives to building a new pedestrian bridge on Shabbat.
Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers in the government had protested the work as a violation of a coalition agreement to refrain from infrastructure work on the day of rest, which begins at sundown Friday.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.