Taxi drivers in central Israel are complaining that the new "Shabbat (Sabbath) buses" are costing them a full 30% of their incomes, Maariv reported.
In an interview, taxi driver Ofer Guzman, who is a member of the Drivers Committee Organization, told Maariv that "people will always go to were they don't have to pay. But us, the people who need this income - this step really hurts us."
The new iniative, which began two weeks ago, offers free busing on Friday evenings and Saturdays in Tel Aviv, Ramat Hasharon, Givatayaim, and Kiryat Ono.
Israel has between 30-35,000 taxi drivers, the site noted.
"Drivers are going around, using up gas, and the rate of expense to income is rising," Guzman said. "We really feel the drop in passengers, it's simply a catastrophe. There are drivers who need to pay their mortgage, who have obligations. Taxis cost between 6,000-7,000 shekels a month. You need to pay a garage, you need to pay for a number, you need to pay the bank loan you took to buy the taxi.
"The free transportation has caused a drop in our income. It's not worth it for us to drive around. You drive and drive and there are no passengers. We're barely surviving. Business on Fridays and Saturdays has dropped at least 30%. As a secular Jew I am glad there is public transportation on the Sabbath, but free buses is not appropriate. They're using my money to take steps that hurt me. They're using the property taxes that we pay to harm us. No one asked us beforehand. No one spoke to us. No one thinks about the taxi drivers. This is just the first part of our troubles, they're also changing how we charge starting in January, and that's also going to hurt our income. I know a taxi driver who now needs psychological treatment because of his fears of how this is going to hurt our income. And I promise you that there are people whose anxiety is even worse."
Haya Werner, another taxi driver, told Maariv, "I am the sole breadwinner and they're hurting us from all directions. I worked the first weekend the free Shabbat buses operated. I felt a significant drop in business. There are less passengers, less calls, and the wait times between passengers are longer."
"Fridays and Saturdays are important days for taxi drivers. Many of these drivers are divorced fathers and mothers, who barely make ends meet. This new step harms us. I'm shaking when I think about the future. People aren't thinking about us, the taxi drivers. I'm not against free transportation but there needs to be a solution other than harming other people's income.
"We have no vacation days, I can't allow myself to be sick," she added. "It really hurts when they harm us. Our expenses are very high. We need to work half a month just in order to pay thet taxi's expenses."
Some of the taxi drivers have decided to protest, but others support turning to the courts - only they're not sure where the money will come from.
"I'm not in favor of blocking roads, because at the end of the day that harms the sick and elderly," one taxi driver said. "I'm in favor of doing things legally. I don't want to make others stuck. It's true that I'm being harmed now, but I don't want to harm others, that's not ethical."
"It's not fair to give to some people with one hand while taking from others with the other hand," he added. "We're all citizens. We leave our families and chldren to work on Fridays and Saturdays. I work in Tel Aviv. I worked last week. I had only two passengers. Usually we always have work. This time no one wanted taxis.
"The passengers are right - they have free transportation, why should they take a taxi? I can't say the passengers were wrong but the decision-makers need to pay attention to us as well. Let them come for a day, sit with us, and understand how much we earn. Nothing! Let them decide, for instance, that we'll take a reduced rate and that the government or municipality will pay the differnce. Let them think of something, find some kind of solution. I work all week and I still don't make a normal salary. But I'm not in favor of protests, I believe we need to send in a formal letter through a lawyer. I hope everything will work out.
Mark Azrov, who heads the Drivers Committee, said: "Public transportation on Shabbat is a good thing if passengers have to pay. As a citizen, it angers me that a certain municipality found itself with extra cash and instead of helping the needy chose to put the money elsewhere."
He added that the taxi drivers had heard of the plan but "did not believe it would happen, there's no logic in it. If someone wants entertainment, he can pay for his entertainment. Why do we have to suffer for it? Why should they take our income?"
Between the new payment system and the Shabbat buses, "30,000 families who live off this occupation are going to disappear. Taxi drivers live from month to month. We'll have no way to bring money home."
"I really hope the Transportation Ministry will intervene to help us," he concluded.