Tel Aviv municipality to run free Shabbat buses to Eurovision
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Tel Aviv municipality to run free Shabbat buses to Eurovision

Rides from city center will help attendees reach contest venue, as public transportation is generally unavailable from sundown Friday to nightfall on Saturday

A street advertisement for the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel, seen on a central street in Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2019. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)
A street advertisement for the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel, seen on a central street in Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2019. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv municipality announced Sunday that it will be running two free bus lines to the Eurovision song contest, whose finals are due to take place on a Saturday, the Jewish day of rest.

Public transportation is unavailable in most of Israel from sundown Friday to nightfall on Saturday, when observant Jews refrain from work and operating machinery.

Israel is expected to host tens of thousands of tourists for the song contest, a massive multi-day event set to kick off in mid-May, with finals scheduled for May 18. It is expected to draw some 200 million TV viewers internationally and is seen as a rare chance for Israel to market a friendlier side of itself to the world.

The municipality said the two bus lines will run between the Expo Tel Aviv fairgrounds, where the contest will take place, and the Carmelit bus station, close to the Eurovision village in Charles Clore Park, which will host exhibitions about the contest, live performances from past and current competitors, and live screenings from the competition. One bus line will run along the shoreline, and the second will traverse the city center.

Taxis in Tel Aviv, known as a ‘sherut,’ wait to take people to Jerusalem and other cities throughout Israel (Rachael Cerrotti/Flash90)

The municipality also said it is working to improve public transportation in the city ahead of the contest, including providing translations of signs at bus stops. There will be an increased number of shared taxis (minibuses known as “sherut” that run on regular route) and the municipality said it was also working with private providers of public electric transportation, such as scooters. Some two dozen Tel Aviv taxi drivers enrolled in an English class earlier this month in a bid to try to improve their service ahead of the expected influx of tourists for the competition.

Additionally, the municipality is recruiting hundreds of volunteers to help tourists in the city during the song contest, as well as producing information booklets.

Israel’s hosting of the competition has already run into problems over the final of the contest, which traditionally takes place on a Saturday. A front-runner to represent Israel in the contest, the Shalva Band of musicians with various disabilities, withdrew from the competition rather than perform on Shabbat. Pop star Omer Adam was invited to perform in the opening ceremony, and also turned down the opportunity to perform rather than desecrate the Sabbath.

Organizers of the contest conditioned Israel’s hosting of the 2019 event on a governmental guarantee that it will grant visas regardless of visitors’ political opinions and let contestants hold general rehearsals on Shabbat.

Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in two decades last year, as Netta Barzilai snagged first place with the women’s empowerment anthem “Toy.”

The win gave Israel the right to put on the contest, but also set off months of tussling over funding and which city would play host.

Israel’s singer Netta Barzilai aka Netta performs with the trophy after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. (AFP/Francisco LEONG)

Hosting the contest is expected to cost Israel up to NIS 190 million ($52 million), according to media reports, but will also bring in millions in tourist dollars and valuable media exposure.

2001 Hebrew University study of Israel’s 1999 hosting duties found holding the event in Israel had a slight economic benefit, and that it could also spark limited further economic development down the road.

“Successfully hosting a media-intensive event such as this generates a demonstration effect and opens the door for future events,” authors Aliza Fleischer and Daniel Felsenstein wrote.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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