A public bus line was launched on Saturday in the northern city of Tiberias, providing residents an additional mode of transportation on Shabbat — a day when public transportation is unavailable and businesses are closed in most cities.
The initiative was launched by the city’s mayor, Ron Kobi, in cooperation with Noa Tnua, an organization that promotes public transportation on Shabbat in cities across the country. The new line will be free of cost.
The project faced intense opposition from Haredi officials in Tiberias, namely the city’s rabbinate, which views it as a violation of the status quo.
But Kobi made clear during his successful mayoral campaign back in November that he planned to “prevent the Haredization” of the city, which has seen an influx of ultra-Orthodox residents who are looking for cheaper housing beyond Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, and other cities.
Nonetheless, the new mayor made clear with the introduction of the bus line earlier this week that the initiative “does not stem from a religious struggle, but rather from a social struggle so that people in Tiberias who cannot afford [to own a private car] will be able to reach the Sea of Galilee on Shabbat.”
“Over the past month, we’ve received complaints from tens of thousands of visitors to the city’s promenade over the lack of public transportation on Shabbat… The tourism centers in the city will continue to remain open on Shabbat, as befitting for a central, progressive and enlightened tourist city,” Kobi said in a statement.
He pledged that the bus will only run on main roads and not enter the more religious neighborhoods of the city. The bus line will also help reduce parking problems that have plagued the city in recent years, the mayor said.
In an interview on Channel 13 Friday, Kobi slammed mayors of other cities who have thus far decided against offering public transportation on Saturdays. “They do not promote such plans because they are cowards. There’s a general weakness among the municipal leadership toward Interior Minister Aryeh Deri,” Kobi said, referring to the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, who has worked to maintain the status quo.
The bus route is part of a broader initiative of the Tiberias mayor to make the city more accessible on Saturday to more secular residents and tourists.
Over the past several weekends, Kobi has overseen the transport of truckloads of snow from Mount Hermon to the Tiberias promenade for passers-by to experience.
Among those present for the inaugural line on Saturday was Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker Oded Forer. He praised Kobi for the initiative, saying that “Tiberias has regained the ability to choose – its residents will be able to choose whether they want to travel or not. Whoever does not want to, will not travel, and whoever wants to can travel.”