Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90
A taxi in Talpiot, Jerusalem, May 5, 2016.

Israeli taxi drivers on Monday convened to plan a protest against the new Shabbat shuttle bus service, which they claim has already caused them a loss of millions of shekels.

Last Shabbat, residents of Metropolitan Tel Aviv (Gush Dan) woke up to a new reality, with public transportation on the day of rest, an initiative of four municipalities, including Tel Aviv-Yafo. The shuttle bus service that ran every half hour proved to be very successful, as waiting passengers had a hard time finding empty seats. But, as it turns out, not everyone was delighted with the ambitious project – and I don’t mean religious Israelis.

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For Taxi drivers, Shabbat used to be their big money day, precisely because Israelis without cars didn’t have an alternative in most cities. Now the free shuttle buses have poached many of their potential customers. The average local fare in an Israeli Taxi is around 30 shekels (close to $9), so that a free bus ride is obviously preferable.

Israel’s Taxi drivers are planning to start protest demonstrations come next Shabbat, and threaten to block roads – which is what you do in the Jewish State when you have a gripe: start miles-long traffic jams.

“There has to be economic fairness,” Mark Azarov, chairman of the cab owners and drivers union in Israel, told Channel 12 News. “It’s inconceivable that our taxes are being used to enable my competition to give discounts.”

“We have no problem with buses running on Shabbat or at night,” he explained, “But we have a problem with these buses being free. If you want to go out – you should pay for your transportation. That’s all.”

Taxi rides cover 13% of all travel in Israel. According to the Transport Ministry, about 600,000 passengers use taxi services every day, and about 40,000 are employed in the industry. In 2013, there were 17,828 special taxis operating in Israel, covering half of all taxi fares; and 2,290 service (Sherut) taxis, functioning as small buses, but with some more flexibility.

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