Jerusalem group launches ‘Shabus’ transport service

Private co-op aims to provide secular Israelis with bus routes on the Sabbath, challenging a 1947 prohibition

Shabus organizers stand outside Jerusalem's Lev Smadar Theater, a secular Jerusalemite hangout on Saturdays, holding signs that read, 'There is a solution, Shabus' (photo credit: Courtesy Shabus)
Shabus organizers stand outside Jerusalem's Lev Smadar Theater, a secular Jerusalemite hangout on Saturdays, holding signs that read, 'There is a solution, Shabus' (photo credit: Courtesy Shabus)

A new Jerusalem cooperative group offering buses on the Sabbath to the capital’s secular population made its debut round Friday evening.

The Cooperative Transportation Association of Jerusalem announced it would run a service of three buses through various neighborhoods in the Holy City for seven hours starting at 8:00 pm.

“Our goal is to enable all those who can’t afford a car or do not want to drive on the Sabbath to travel in Jerusalem,” said Tamar Mokady, a member of the CTA board, to AFP.

Without a car or other personal transportation means, navigating Jerusalem between the start of the Sabbath, which begins Friday evening, to sundown on Saturday, is a hassle.

The CTA has named its initiative “Shabus” — a play on the words Shabbat and bus.

Mokady said passengers wishing to ride the Shabus must register with the CTA and pay an annual registration fee of 50 shekels ($13). The organization is charging a maximum of NIS 12 per ride, added CTA founder Laura Wharton, but will be dividing the costs of renting the buses among the members according to their use of the services.

“The more people that ride, the lower the cost per ride,” said Wharton, who is also a Meretz city councilmember in Jerusalem. “In order to encourage people to join and try out our services, the first month (May) will be free for all members.”

Mokady stressed that there was no intention to run the service indefinitely, but rather to use it to put pressure on the government to provide public transport on Saturdays.

“We want to pressure the state into allowing public transport, both buses and tramways, to operate just like any other major city in the world,” she said.

Nearly 900 private donors have given some 110,000 shekels ($27,500) to the CTA to fund the service, which will be run by a private Arab bus company based in East Jerusalem.

The project could also catch on in other Israeli cities.

“There’s great interest from residents of other cities, who asked our advice on how to start up such an operation,” Mokady said.

In February, Laura Wharton, a Jerusalem city council member from the Meretz party who is one of the Shabus founders and the chair of the board of the cooperative, told The Times of Israel the initiative was legal as there were no laws prohibiting private transportation on Shabbat,

Shabus offers the service only to members. Anyone who wants to use the Shabus must join the cooperative.

Israel’s prohibition of public transportation on Shabbat is based on an understanding created in 1947 between then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion and the Agudat Yisrael movement, which represented the ultra-Orthodox community of that period. That status quo decision became the basis of many religious-life decisions in Israel, including the issue of public transportation on Shabbat.

“It’s the most frustrating thing for Jerusalemites,” Wharton said. “There are so many places that are open, restaurants and museums and the zoo, but you can’t get to them if you don’t have a car.”

Shabus’s maiden route would head from Neve Yaakov at the northern tip of the city, through downtown and then south, toward Gilo, she said.

“The people who live in those areas have the biggest problem,” claimed Wharton. “I live in Beit Hakerem and have walked home from places in the center of town [on Shabbat]. We wanted to deal with the people with the most critical problem.”

The second route being tentatively discussed would run from west to east and travel from Ein Kerem and Beit Hakerem through Kiryat Hayovel. It could also go to the hospitals, added Wharton, because there is no other way to reach the major hospitals without taking a private car or cab.

Wharton said that the cooperative has been working for over a year on setting up Shabus, and sees it as a feasible, long-term solution.

At the same time, “we do hope that the Ministry of Transport will realize and accept that it should take upon itself the responsibility for providing public transportation for all residents of Jerusalem, including on Saturdays,” she said. “In the meantime, and for as long as that takes, we intend to offer our cooperative transportation and will keep running Shabus as a public service.”


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