Using Public Transportation in Israel

Filed in Getting Around by on 18/07/2013 0 Comments
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Public Transportation in Israel

Jerusalem Light Rail panorama

Jerusalem Light Rail (Photo: Ricardo Tulio Gandelman, CC BY 2.0)

Half the challenge of going somewhere new is traveling like the local population. In Israel, that challenge can be compounded by having little or no Hebrew to navigate the system.  But, don’t worry. Many Israelis know English and are only too happy to help you while practicing their second language. Below we’ve prepared some real insider tips on knowing what to do and what to expect when using public transportation in Israel.

While buses are the main way to travel inside Israel’s towns and cities, Jerusalem also has a light rail, Tel Aviv is planning to build one and Haifa has the Carmelit subway.


Waiting at the Bus Stop

Rav Kav Card

Rav Kav Card (Photo: Amitron94, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Venturing out on a local bus will be easier if you phone *8787 ahead of time to find out exactly which bus number you need, where to catch it and where to get off. Most local buses run every 10-20 minutes. A few lines run every half hour.

If you see a large crowd waiting at the bus stop that may mean the bus was delayed in traffic. Sometimes in this case two or even three buses will arrive at the same time! Usually there is a bench at the bus stop and a roof that can protect against sun and rain depending on which way it faces. If the bus arrives packed like sardines in a can you are better off to wait for the next one, which is often empty, as everyone has piled into the crowded bus.

Boarding the Bus

When you board the bus it is a good idea to have the exact amount of change or close to it to purchase the ticket. Sometimes bus drivers will not change large bills as they are out of change. Also hold on to the bars and use only one hand to pay the driver because he may suddenly drive off – unfortunately most drivers in Israel seem pressed for time and will not wait until everyone is seated before continuing on the route. If you want to file a complaint against a driver there is a serial number on the wall on the right hand side of the bus. You need to report this serial number, the time the incident took place as well as the number of the bus.

If you board a bus with a baby stroller and want to keep baby in the carriage you will have to pay for the baby. If you collapse the stroller and hold baby in your lap you will not have to pay, but many people prefer paying than trying to collapse the stroller in one hand and holding the baby in the other while the bus is moving.Fortunately Israelis are very friendly and helpful and invariably someone will offer to hold the baby while the mother is collapsing the stroller.

If you board the bus with a dog it must be leashed and muzzled and you have to pay for Fido as well! If you board with a cat in a carrier you may also be asked to pay for the cat!

Do not throw away your ticket. Not only can it be used to board another bus within an hour and a half, but an inspector may come on and check everyone’s ticket to make sure they have paid.

Jerusalem Light Rail

Jerusalem Light Rail

Jerusalem Light Rail (Photo: Ricardo Tulio Gandelman, CC BY 2.0)

Jerusalem opened its new Light Rail in 2012 and there are plans to expand it. You can view here a map of the route of Jerusalem’s Light Rail that presently runs between Mount Herzyl in southwest Jerusalem to Pisgat Zeev in the north.

Unlike buses, the Jerusalem Light Rail has been built to travel in the snow. Even though Jerusalem only gets a big snow fall once every few years, this is a boon for people who need to get to work, students who have to go to school and soldiers who must get to army bases as the Light Rail stops at Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station from where buses travel all over the country.

Also unlike buses, the Light Rail is a easy for mothers with infants in strollers, as most of the time they do not have to collapse the strollers. But, there is always an exception; in rush hours strollers may need to be collapsed.

Safety Guidelines on using the Light Rail are:

Never cross the light rail tracks except with a green light at a proper crosswalk. Never cross in front of a moving train even if it seems quite away off.

Stay behind the line marked on the platform until the train arrives and comes to a full stop.

Only enter a train when it stops and after the passengers get off.

Never lean on the doors of the trains (there are doors on both sides).

Always hold on to the rails or hand grips if you are walking or standing on the train.

Put your belongings down carefully and make sure you leave nothing behind when you leave the train.

If you need to use the light rail you must purchase your ticket from what looks like an ATM machine on the platform next to the tracks. In spite of explanations in all of the languages, if you need help in accomplishing this feat you will find advice on how to do it freely offered by other passengers. As soon as you board the train you must insert your ticket into the top of an electronic gadget. When the ticket comes back up take it but do not throw it away. Soon an inspector will come and check your ticket as well as those of the other passengers to make sure you paid. A hefty fine is given to people who boarded without paying. Also the ticket can be used within an hour and a half to board a bus if necessary.

Rav Kav Card

You will notice that most of the Israelis have what looks like a smart card with their photo on it to board the train that they place on the front of the electronic gadget which then makes a kind of buzzing noise. This is called a Rav Kav Card and is paid for and updated monthly.

Carmelit Haifa

Carmelit Haifa subway

Carmelit Haifa (Photo: Tanuki Warrior, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Carmelit in Haifa founded in 1959 is Israel’s only subway, but it has just six stops in one tunnel that goes up and down Mount Carmel! This is the fastest way to go up and down the beautiful Carmel. You have to buy a ticket in advance and validate the ticket as you go through a turnstile. Do not throw the ticket away as an inspector might ask to see it as verification that you paid.

Did You Know?

Jerusalem has a special City Tour double decker bus 99 that offers a panoramic tour of Jerusalem. With the ticket you can get off at any of the 24 stops and spend as much time as you want and then go on another 99 bus that comes by. Earphones offer explanations in eight different languages. Passengers riding this bus can get a discount price for the Time Elevator.

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