Earlier this week, I’m sure I surprised you with the amount of bus companies that operate in the tiny country called Israel. Today, I’ll share with you the alternatives Israel’s public transportation offers to buses – and the cons and pros that go along with using these alternatives.
Then, I’ll return to discussing buses – so I can give you tips on saving money when using buses.
Israel’s train services are pretty spread out throughout the country, though they still don’t reach every place. The trains provide comfortable seats and a nice table for every four seats.
Due to the fact trains are usually faster than buses and don’t need to deal with traffic, they’re pretty popular in Israel – so much so that rush hours are known to be times where you better hope you have a place to stay.
On Sunday mornings – the first work day of the week – soldiers head back to base. Though all soldiers – and all civil employees – go to work on Sunday morning, on Sunday mornings it’s worse, because there’s the addition of soldiers who usually live in their base but came home for the weekend. Now they need to go back to base, and they take up a lot of space. These same soldiers crowd public transportation on Thursday afternoons and evenings, as they start their weekend vacations, if they’re fortunate enough to go home that weekend.
Whether soldiers live in base or at home, public transportation is free to them – given that they earn only a $100 or so a month. Yes, you read that correctly – only two zeros. Early in 2012, some train privileges were taken away from soldiers for the sake of leaving breathing space to the rest of the public, inevitably lengthening some soldiers’ commute. The Web and outter-Web spaces were filled with protests and rage – though there were people who welcomed the breathing space – and eventually some privileges were returned.
The biggest downsize of using the train in Israel is not the crowds, which you can find on certain buses, too, during rush hours. Nor is it the fact that trains don’t operate on weekends. The biggest downsize is that you cannot count on train service even when trains do operate.
The Israeli Railways have a great website for you to check for schedules and routes. Unlike most bus companies‘ websites, this one actually has an English version (yay!). However, trains here are unreliable.
Israel is tech heaven. The amount of startups that are developed here and the amount of top companies, like Microsoft, who have development centers here keeps on growing. Yet, for some reason, the trains keep needing repairs. Part of it is because not enough was invested in infrastructures. Service is halted often, and if it’s not for repairs or infrastructure development – it’s for strikes.
I support strikes and think they are many times courageous. I am all for people speaking up for themselves and for their rights and fighting for better conditions. I find that powerful.
Until the government steps up to take care of the infrastructures and employees’ work conditions, if you really want or need to be somewhere – make sure you have additional commute ways. Maybe you won’t need them, but you never know.
At the time of writing this, one train route is out of service this month for 13 days and the other – for 16 days. Make sure to check the website for announcements, or get in touch with the company’s customer service. There’s only one company, so at least it’s easy to find your information.
Customer service: Call *5770 or 03-6117000
You can also fax to 03-6104337, an option created for the sake of those with hearing disability. It is requested that you provide the company with a fax number to which the customer service team can reply.
Sat: Operating hours start a half an hour after Sabbath has ended and closes at 23:00.
Website in English: Click here.
CityPass – Jerusalem’s Light Rail: Besides inter-city trains explored above, Jerusalem has its own light rail. Not many tech complaints have been heard about this one, yet many locals are not happy with addition. CityPass messed with the public transportation map of the city – previously reigned solely by buses of the company Egged.
While the changes might have made life easier for some, others now need to take an extra bus or train ride to get to where they want to get.
It is important to know that buying a ticket with CityPass is a two-phase process. First, you need to buy the ticket in the station where you wait for the train. Then, upon boarding the train, you must validate your ticket by passing it through the machine you’ll find by the door.
Watch a video on CityPass’ website‘s bottom right corner (on the homepage) to see how this is done. The website here, too, is in English.
Customer service: Call *3686 or 073-210-0601.
Fri and holiday eves: 07:00-13:00
HaCarmelit – Haifa’s Subway: Tel-Aviv might be known for all that is cool and innovative, but Haifa doesn’t only have a culture life of its own – it has a real subway!
In fact, while it’s been operating since 1959, it remains Israel’s only subway.
Earlier in 2012, the Carmelit expanded its operating hours. These are the updated times according to its website:
Fri and holiday eves: 06:00-15:00
Sat: From the end of Sabbath to 24:00
Unfortunately, the website is available only in English, yet I’ll bet people at the office know English. The e-mail address on the contact page is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Service cabs – “moniyot sherut” in Hebrew – are available in many parts of the country, both in central bus stations and along city roads. They are yellow mini vans, containing 10 passengers each. They usually go on the same routes as buses and charge a similar or slightly more expensive amount.
Pros: Sometimes their frequency is better than that of buses. You can catch them away from bus stations as well. Bus drivers usually get fined if they let you come on or off the bus in a location other than a bus stations. Service cabs don’t have these limitations, so you can ask them to stop wherever you want – as long as it’s on their route. Also, service cabs operate in weekends and at all hours in many places, even if other forms of public transportation do not.
Cons: There’s no set schedule. At the beginning of their route, drivers wait until the cab fills up. Sometimes, they leave their entry station without a satisfying number of people, yet often they will stall departure in the hopes of getting another customer.
If you see a service cab waiting, feel free to ask the driver when he plans on leaving. I write “he” because, unfortunately, I don’t remember seeing a woman driving a service cab in all my years of using them. Sometimes the driver will tell you he’s waiting for more passengers to hopefully arrive, and sometimes he’ll tell you he’ll be leaving in a couple of minutes. Then you can choose to either get inside and enjoy the air conditioner or wait outside and enjoy the sun, and see if maybe a bus will come by and take you away faster.
At times, drivers’ competition with buses for passengers on the route disturbs people. The competition is understandable, given that many service cab drivers are sort of freelancers whereas bus drivers get paid no matter how many passengers they take (though bus drivers have their own challenges). In my personal experience, it is rare to see drivers do more than use a little hutzpa. Usually, in my experience, they’re pretty respectful.
What you must know if you plan on using service cabs:
How to make them stop: Unless you happen to find a service cab waiting at its entry station, you will need to raise your hand in the air when you see it driving to make it stop. It might feel similar to hitchhiking, yet these are actually cabs with permits from the government. While you’re on the service cab and want out, there’s no bell to ring. It’s just a minivan, so say out loud: Driver, can you please stop at — and tell him where you want him to stop.
How to recognize them: Service cabs are yellow minivans, as you can see in the picture above. Their company’s name will usually not be easily to catch, certainly when they’re driving on freeways. What you will notice is a little sign on their front shield. Sometimes it will have numbers – usually similar to bus lines on a particular route – and sometimes they will have locations’ names written on them: Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Kfar-Saba. The thing is – words here are only written in Hebrew. Make sure you ask locals to help you out in reading if you can’t read Hebrew. Israelis are pretty friendly people.
How to pay them: If ride a train, you buy a ticket in the station before boarding. If you ride a bus, you buy a ticket from the driver as soon as you board. If you take a service cab, the first thing you do is sit down. Take your money out leisurely (though it’s appropriate to pay as soon as possible) and pass it on through other passengers.
One passenger passes the money to the other – until it eventually reaches the driver. Again, there are only 10 people on a full service cab (besides the driver), so it doesn’t take a long time. This is the exact same way the driver gives you the money back – through other passengers. If you choose to sit on the front row, be prepared for strangers to gently touch your shoulder – especially if you don’t answer to their Hebrew question, “Can you pass?”, which means, “Can you please pass the money to the passenger in front of you – or to the driver?” Some people avoid the question and do nothing but touch others’ shoulders and give them the money. It’s just routine. Feel free to respectfully and gently touch others’ shoulders – only when it’s necessary in order to pass the money, of course.
Some people get up and pay the driver while standing up. They continue standing up until the driver gives them their change. Not only is it dangerous to stand while a car drives through a freeway, it will also make you stand out as someone who never uses service cabs. This, of course, is neither a a good thing or a bad thing.
Regular cabs are called “special” cabs – because they make the ride especially for you. They are, therefore, more expensive, yet they’ll take you whenever you want to wherever you want. Many cab companies operate across the country, too many to include here.
In many areas of the country, you can either call in advance or go out to the street and raise your hand – as if hitchhiking – in order to catch a “special” cab. I recommend consulting with locals where this need and not be practiced – both in terms of safety and in terms of your chances of actually catching a cab.
Why are “special” cabs on this list? I consider taxis to be somewhere between private transportation and public transportation. However, sometimes taxis act as if they were service cabs. I call them “cabs that pretend to be service cabs”.
The case here is easy: A driver gets a long-distance, well paid ride. She or he takes it. On the way there or back, though, s/he’s not earning anything. Therefore, it is better to take people at the rate of a service cab (read: way lower) than to ride by yourself and earn nothing. Taxi drivers are a form of freelancers, too. I recommend consulting with locals on whether it is accustomed in the particular area you’re traveling.
Funny fact: The direct Hebrew translation of “special cabs” is “moniyot meyuhadot”. However, in Israel, everyone says “moniyot special”.
SAVE MONEY WHILE USING BUSES
Mark this phrase – Rav-Kav, or multi-line.
It is an electronic card that substitutes the paper tickets buses used to sell until not long ago. Anyone can get a card like this, even tourists, and charging it with bus rides gives you 20% discount off each ride.
How to get a Rav-Kav
If you want it for free, find the Rav-Kav office in the central bus station of the city you’re visiting. You will need to have your photo taken and fill out a form detailing some personal information – but all of it is free. Alternatively, buy an anonymous Rav-Kav from the bus driver. It will cost you approximately $2.5.
Take under consideration, though, that if you lose your anonymous card, you’ll lose all the money you pre-paid to charge it for future rides. If you lose a card you got for free, the system will be able to track down what you pre-paid – because you filled out the form – and therefore all you’ll have to do is go to a Rav-Kav office again and pay $2.5.
Bus companies that let you use Rav-Kav
The bus companies that already work with this electronic ticket are Egged, Dan, Afikim, Galim, Dan, Metropoline, Nativ Express, Superbus, Kavim.
How many programs can one charge on a Rav-Kav?
If you’re planning a long-term stay in Israel, and say you’re staying in Tel-Aviv, you might have frequent bus rides to Jerusalem, to Haifa, to Hertzlyia. Pre-paying for a multi-time ticket to go from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem (or back), for example, is considered a program. If you pre-pay for a multi-time ticket from Tel-Aviv to Haifa (or back) to be charged to your Rav-Kav, that’s considered another program.
If you have these two programs already charged, but now you want to spend a lot of time inside Tel-Aviv and you want a local ticket? You’ll pre-pay to charge a multi-times ticket to get that 20% off the price of each ride, right? That’s another program!
The claim is that you can charge up to 8 programs at the same time, yet bus drivers say the system – which is still new – goes crazy if you have more than 3 or 4 programs charged on the card at a given time. Take that under consideration.
Do you need a Rav-Kav?
Rav-Kav is excellent if you intend on riding the same line various times, no matter the direction. You will not be able to find a program that includes less than 5 rides, in my opinion. Consult with the driver regarding specific cases, yet if you only plan on going somewhere once, pay for only one ticket.
Other ways to save money on buses in Israel
If you’re in the Tel-Aviv metropolitan area and you pay for a single bus ride – you can actually take as many buses as you’d like for the next hour and a half without extra charge.
If you plan on being in one area a lot, and using more than two bus rides – yet you expect it will take you more than an hour and a half to do so – ask the driver for “hofshi yomi”. This means, you pay once that day and that’s it. It will be more expensive than one bus ride, yet it will pay off better than the other option:
If you plan to use a bus to go to a different city (say from Haifa to Tel-Aviv) and then return to the original city the same day, tell the driver you’re interested in buying a return ticket. Paying for both rides in advance will make it cheaper than paying for each ride separately.
If you plan on staying in one area for a month and using public transportation there a lot, consider whether the price of a month-long ticket – paid in advance – will be worth it to you. Think ahead how much you’ll be using public transportation – unless your plans are unclear yet – and find prices by contacting bus companies.
However, if you want to take advantage of any of these offers in the Tel-Aviv Metropolitan Area, you will have to get a Rav-Kav. For the environment’s sake, no more paper tickets are sold in this area anymore – even though receipts still come out in paper form.
Not sure where to look or call first? Call the national information center for Israeli public transportation and you’ll be told exactly what and when to take. Note that this information office will only be able to help you in terms of buses and trains.
Phone number: 1-900-72-1111
Public transportation is a lot of fun and pretty easy to you – but can you take it to nature spots? Come back on Sunday and find out!
What’s your favorite form of public transportation?