Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators block roads to protest Tel Aviv Shabbat bus service
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Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators block roads to protest Tel Aviv Shabbat bus service

Protesters in Bnei Brak halt traffic on major thoroughfares to oppose popular weekend public transportation initiative launched last month

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox protesters block a road in Bnei Brak to oppose light rail construction work taking place on Shabbat, September 21, 2018. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox protesters block a road in Bnei Brak to oppose light rail construction work taking place on Shabbat, September 21, 2018. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox protesters on Friday blocked roads in Bnei Brak to protest a Shabbat public transportation initiative that was launched in the Tel Aviv area last month.

Sections of the city’s Route 4 and Jabotinsky Road were blocked during the protest.

The police said in a statement: “Police officers are on the scene and directing traffic. Drivers are requested to choose alternate routes and heed police instructions.”

Public transportation on Shabbat is strongly opposed by Israel’s Orthodox establishment, while secular Israelis have long chafed at their restricted mobility during the weekend.

Bnei Brak is located on the outskirts of secular Tel Aviv and its population is overwhelmingly religious.

The Tel Aviv municipality launched its Shabbat bus service, dubbed “We move on weekends,” on November 22.

The groundbreaking initiative has so far proved overwhelmingly popular, with buses overflowing in its first weekend, and the city ramping up the number and size of buses to keep up with demand.

Some 10,000 people made use of the service in each of its first two weekends.

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.

The Tel Aviv program services several surrounding communities including Ramat Hasharon, Givatayim and Kiryat Ono. The routes, which cover some 300 kilometers (186 miles) in total and include 500 bus stops, do not enter primarily Orthodox neighborhoods.

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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