Tel Aviv Shabbat bus program a hit with riders in its 2nd weekend

Groundbreaking initiative adds full-sized buses to fleet of smaller vehicles to keep up with massive demand

A public bus operated on Shabbat drives through Tel Aviv, November 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
A public bus operated on Shabbat drives through Tel Aviv, November 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Tel Aviv’s weekend public transportation initiative again proved overwhelmingly popular in its second week of operation on Friday and Saturday.

The municipality’s Shabbat bus service, dubbed “We move on weekends,” in its second week started using full-sized buses to keep up with demand, as well as mini-buses, which came with greater frequency than the previous week.

Some 10,000 people made use of the service on Friday and Saturday. Mini-buses made 540 trips and full-sized buses made 140, the Ynet news site reported.

Last week the mini-buses were unable to handle the number of riders, leaving many passengers waiting at stations while the jam-packed vehicles passed by.

The mini-buses seat 19 passengers and the full-sized buses seat 52. The buses were used within Tel Aviv and to connect the city to the suburb of Kiryat Ono.

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

Last week, some 10,000 people used the service, which was launched despite strong opposition by Israel’s Orthodox establishment.

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

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 at the time.

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

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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