Minibuses that run on Friday evenings and Saturdays buck states religious restrictions
Tel Aviv is one of Israels most dynamic cities, but the latest local craze could appear fairly humdrum to outsiders a bus service that runs at weekends.
Packed 19-seat minibuses fill up fast with passengers, who excitedly gossip about the new routes. People patiently queue at bus stops, knowing they might have to wait for two or three buses to pass before there is a space. Still, they are upbeat. Its a pleasure, said Ben Uzan, a 30-year-old electronic engineer. Its a blessed initiative.
Israel is well-connected with buses, trains and trams but the Jewish state upholds unique religious restrictions. Public transport is seriously reduced on the Sabbath, or Shabbat, and many Jewish parts of the country shut down completely.
Broadly enforced since the countrys founding, the policy has been fiercely defended by traditionalist rabbis. While majority Muslim towns and religiously mixed municipalities, such as Haifa, have separate rules, Jewish majority areas have long upheld the policy.
Now, and for the first time, public transportation is available on the holy day of rest nightfall Friday to nightfall Saturday in Tel Aviv, the epicentre of secular Israel, where residents have been demanding a change for decades. A limited service began in late November with free buses connecting Tel Aviv with satellite cities surrounding it.
Proponents of the scheme say the religious rules disproportionately affect the poor, as secular families with cars can simply drive.
A recent survey found 60% of Israelis were in favour of public transport services on Shabbat, as long as their routes avoid areas where there is a religious or ultra-Orthodox majority. Some 97% of ultra-Orthodox respondents were opposed.
It should be standard, like every big city in the world, said Liron Langer, 39, as he waited at a bus stop in the southern district of Florentin.
I am sure opinions are divided, but if you ask people around here, you will find a mayor consensus on why this is positive. In cities like Jerusalem or other more ultra-Orthodox cities, they will oppose it because it breaks the status quo.