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Lawyers, politicians threaten action against Saturday buses

The mayors of the cities operating the “Na’im Besofash” free Saturday buses in the Greater Tel Aviv region are being threatened by lawyers and politicians as the service continues to operate.

The mayors have received a warning letter from the Myron, Bension & Prywes law firm charging that the service is financially damaging taxi drivers and harming the equal rights of orthodox and traditional residents. The law firm says it is representing, “The cities’ residents, public organizations and relevant commercial bodies.”

The lawyers say that operating the service is “unacceptable and prohibited” and that responsibility for the financial damage caused as a result of it – primarily to tax drivers – is borne by the city councilors and all those who approved and implemented the “unjust operations.”

The letters states that operating the public transport service by the municipality is not legal and is being undertaken without authority. The letter adds that the prohibited operation of public transport on the Sabbath on routes, and unacceptable picking up of passengers at bus stops, are a “criminal offense that should not be treated leniently in its importance,” restrict access for handicapped passengers, operate an illegal cities association, and “change the global social agenda that is at the heart of Israel’s social covenant.”

The letter complains that religious residents are unfairly being asked to pay for the service through their municipal taxes and demands the immediate cessation or suspension of the Saturday buses.

The “Na’im Besofash” free Saturday buses began running three weeks ago. More than 10,000 passengers have used the service in and between the four cities participating in it: Tel Aviv, Ramat Hasharon, Kiryat Ono, and Givatayim. Tel Aviv Municipality expects more cities to join the service. Demand has considerably exceeded expectations and even though the cities replaced minibuses with full-sized buses, many passengers could still be seen waiting disappointedly at bus stops.

The service has been able to establish itself at a time when the Knesset is not functioning fully due to the failure of the various parties to form a government. Minister of Transport Bezalel Smotrich, who is himself orthodox and opposed to the service, has been unable to prevent it because it is a free service for the welfare of residents rather than a public transport enterprise. However, the United Torah Judaism party has asked Interior Minister Aryeh Deri not to allow the municipalities operating the free Saturday buses to hike their taxes.

Israel’s Orthodox community has an unexpected champion in Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon, who despite running a city with a clear secular majority, has declined to join the free Saturday bus service. He said, “I’m not prepared to join these campaigns against the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox public. It’s not the spirit of the city. We have here mutual respect between residents. We are united here as one large community each with his own beliefs. Ron Huldai (Tel Aviv Mayor) will not run Herzliya.”

But Democratic Union and Meretz head MK Nitzan Horowitz remains defiant. “The public transport revolution not only will not be halted, it will grow and expand to all the country’s cities that are interested in it. How ironic that according to the warning letter operating the routes on Saturdays harms equality and represents an unacceptable political issue for the secular public. Are the anonymous plaintiffs really interested in going into the subject and examining how much the secular public pays for services provided exclusively to the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox public? The buses have already set out on their route. We will continue this long campaign against religious coercion. Public transport on Saturdays is only the start.”

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on December 11, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

The Tel Aviv municipality has approved an initial budget for operating public transportation on the Sabbath. Under the plan, a number of cities in the greater Tel Aviv area, among them Givatayim, Ramat Hasharon, and Kiryat Ono, will operate a shared transportation system on the Sabbath. These cities are calling on other cities to join them in expanding this system.

The Tel Aviv municipality will provide NIS 9 million ($2.59 million) of the projected NIS 12 million cost ($3.45 million), with other municipalities providing the other NIS 3 million ($0.86 million).