The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality yesterday decided in principle to operate public transport on Saturdays. The measure, proposed by Meretz council members, was approved in a 13-7 vote. The government and the Ministry of Transport have to approve the decision, which could prove problematic. The municipality said that if the Ministry of Transport does not approve the measure, it will use private companies to provide public transport on Saturdays.
Knesset Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said in response, "We won't allow the deliberate attack on the sacred status quo and the sanctity of the Sabbath in the country." He called the Tel Aviv Municipality's decision "wanton and populist", adding, "This decision is nothing but a stain on the honor of the Tel Aviv Municipality."
The Tel Aviv Municipality will ask the Ministry of Transport's public transportation commissioner to approve the operation of bus routes and service taxis that operate on designated bus routes on Saturdays. The municipality will prepare a plan to submit to the commissioner, who is authorized by law to approve such requests if a municipality deems them essential, for example bus services for non-Jewish residents, or to provide transport to hospitals as required in cities such as Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv councilwoman Tami Zandberg (Meretz), said, "This is a historic measure for the secular community in Israel in general and in Tel Aviv in particular. It will end the shutting down of public transportation on the Sabbath. For years, the secular community has been hostage to haredi (ultra-orthodox) politicians, who want to continue to restrict the freedom of movement of millions of citizens for one day every week. The time has come to adjust the status quo to contemporary reality. It's unacceptable to live under arrangements made over 60 years ago. For years, Meretz has worked for public transport on all the days of the week, and it is proud of this important measure."
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai supports the decision, saying, "Israel is the only country in the world without public transport on a quarter of the days of the year on Saturdays and holidays. We should ask ourselves, what can a person who cannot afford to buy a car and wants to visit family or go to the beach on Saturday do? Today, the lack of an efficient public transport system harms the proper development of the country and the public's ability to forego their expensive and polluting cars."
Religious council members voted against the proposal. Huldai's hands are tied by coalition agreements, which are liable to cause him not to apply his own words. Councilman Benjamin Babiof (Shas) has petitioned the Attorney General to block a vote by the cabinet on the matter.
Ministry of Transport spokesman Avner Ovadia told Hebrew daily "Yediot Ahronot", "The ministry has no intention of breaking the status quo on public transport."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 21, 2012
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