Responding to high demand, Tel Aviv to expand free Shabbat bus program
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Responding to high demand, Tel Aviv to expand free Shabbat bus program

After more than 10,000 passengers used the public transportation service last weekend, organizers plan to significantly increase its frequency

The new public transportation buses which run on Saturdays, seen driving in Tel Aviv, November 23, 2019. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
The new public transportation buses which run on Saturdays, seen driving in Tel Aviv, November 23, 2019. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Tel Aviv municipality on Thursday said it will significantly expand free public transportation on Shabbat, following the overwhelming public response to last week’s launch of the initiative.

The new Shabbat bus service, dubbed “We move on weekends,” was such a hit that some passengers were left waiting at the stations and more than 10,000 people used the public transportation service which was launched despite strong opposition to such programs by Israel’s Orthodox establishment.

There are currently six routes — most circumvent religious neighborhoods — with minibuses that were initially scheduled to come every half hour. The service includes transportation to surrounding communities including Ramat Hasharon, Givatayim and Kiryat Ono.

Minibuses, seating 19 people each, started servicing the new routes as Shabbat began last Friday evening. Three hours after the service was launched, Tel Aviv announced that it would add more vehicles as passengers were left waiting due to large demand, the Israeli business website Calcalist reported.

Mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai poses for a photograph at a launch event for the new public transportation buses which will run on Saturdays, November 20, 2019. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Subsequently, the municipality decided to significantly increase the system’s capacity, doubling the frequency of service and replacing some 10 percent of vehicles with 52-seat buses, Channel 13 reported Thursday. Several lines will now run every 20 minutes rather than twice an hour and the buses will begin running at 5 p.m., an hour earlier than last week.

Ophir Cohen of the Tel Aviv municipality told Channel 13 the program was “part of a municipal policy to reduce the use of a private vehicle.”

“We believe that if we offer alternatives, residents will give up their vehicles and use public transportation, bicycles and walk,” he said.

During the early weeks of the program, the service will be free to all riders.

In Israel, buses and trains do not generally run in Jewish-majority cities on Friday night and Saturday before sundown. The practice was born of an agreement reached between the ultra-Orthodox community and Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, before the formation of the state.

Secular Israelis have long chafed at their restricted mobility during the weekend.

Other Israeli cities recently announced their intention to begin providing public transportation on Saturdays, including Tel Aviv suburbs Ramat Gan and Ganei Tikva. Earlier this year, a free Saturday bus line was launched in the northern town of Tiberias.

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