Of all the ways that religion impacts the Israeli public sphere, the lack of public transportation in most of the country on Sabbaths and religious holidays has possibly the largest week-to-week impact on people’s lives. It means that those who don’t have their own vehicles can’t get far from home on these days.
The difficulty this poses is made greater by the structure of the work week here. In contrast to in the United States, where Saturdays and Sundays are rest days, here Sunday is a working day. That means that Saturday, when there is no transportation until nightfall, is the only full day off available for going on trips or to visit friends and family.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai has just taken up the issue, calling via his Facebook page for all-week transportation in his city and elsewhere in the country. He has criticized the Transportation Ministry for the current state of affairs, declaring: “The ministry is the body responsible for public transportation. I expect the ministry and the government to listen to the voice of the public and operate public transportation on weekends and holidays.”
Though this debate is not new, this iteration of it comes with a fresh twist. In the past it was always a discussion about the rights of those without cars, but now it’s also an environmental issue. Huldai believes that the current public transportation situation “damages the proper development of the State and the public’s ability to give up their expensive and polluting private vehicles.”
Huldai is an important figure, and the addition of his voice to the transport-on-Sabbath lobby is significant. It puts the onus on the Transportation Ministry to explain to him why it makes exceptions for Haifa and Eilat and lets them run buses on Sabbath, but not for his city or others in Israel.