Buses are the most common form of public transportation for Israelis and foreign visitors alike. They are generally frequent and modern, but often slow.
There are several bus companies in Israel, including:
- Egged (pronounced "Eh-ged"): The largest company in Israel and the world's second largest bus company. It operates intercity and urban bus service in many parts of the country, including Jerusalem and Haifa. Despite a reduction in its network in recent years, it still operates about 60% of bus service in Israel.
- Dan: The second largest company in Israel and the principal operator within the metropolitan Tel Aviv area (Gush Dan).
- Metropoline: Operates intercity lines to Beer Sheva and the Negev (with the notable exception of Eilat), and suburban lines in northern Dan region (aka the southern Sharon).
- Afikim: Operates lines radiating from Ashdod, Yavne, Petah Tikva, Rosh HaAyin, Ariel and Samaria region.
- Egged Ta'avura. operates lines in Netanya, Mevaseret Zion, Ma'ale Adumim and the West Bank.
- Superbus operates lines in Beit Shemesh, Yokneam, Tiberias, Southern Galilee and the Afula region.
- Nateev Express operates lines in Upper Galilee and lines from Netanya to Tel Aviv.
- Kavim operates urban lines in Kiryat Ono region in Gush Dan, Ramla, Lod, Modi'in, regional lines in Netanya and Hadera. Kavim also operates lines to Beitar Illit under the Illit brand.
- Nazareth United Bus Services and Nazareth Travel and Tourism both operate lines in Nazareth region.
- Dan BaDarom operates lines in the Northern Negev.
- Dan Beersheva operates urban lines in Beer Sheva.
The bus transport system is undergoing changes in recent years, as Egged and Dan were phased out of many of their former routes to be replaced by other companies. The quality of service of the new companies varies from very good to poor, not only between companies but also between regions of the same company (for example, Connex's service in the Ashdod region is considered very good, but its service in Modi'in gets low marks).
Each city has a Central Bus Station (תחנה מרכזית, "tachana merkazit"), which is a terminal where most intercity routes begin and end. In the last 20 years, most of these stations have been rebuilt as air-conditioned malls. Generally, a large number of city bus routes run on the street just outside the central bus station. Sometimes these stations are located in a city's downtown, but often they are on the edge of a city, next to a main road to minimize travel time.
Fares and tickets
Fares are relatively low by Western standards. A single urban ride costs ₪5.90 in most metropolitan areas, but could be as low as ₪3 in smaller cities. Intercity fares vary approximately based on distance. Trips between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv cost ₪16 one way. The most expensive journey is between Haifa and Eilat, costing ₪70.
See the English-language fare guide for updated information about bus fares in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Be'er Sheva, and their suburbs. There is a lot to read here; you can start with the maps of what is consider an urban ride in each area. You can also check out a comprehensive fare guide at Egged's website on this page for one-way or accumulated value trips and this page for prices of daily/weekly/monthly passes and their coverage for each metropolitan area.
Tickets can be bought from drivers on the bus, or (for intercity buses) at ticket booths in terminals. Exact change is not necessary - drivers or cashiers will give change for notes up to 10 times the fare. Payment by credit card is accepted at ticket booths for fares over ₪22.
Most metropolitan areas (Haifa, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, and the entire Tel Aviv area) have automatic free transfers within the area (when using the Rav-Kav smart card). Transfers are valid for 90 minutes.
Buses to/from Eilat must be reserved ahead of time (at a ticket booth, or by phone, internet, or text message). All other buses are first come first served. Rarely, intercity buses will refuse to pick up passengers because they are completely full.
Rav-Kav (pronounced rahv-kahv) is a smart card, used for payment on all forms of public transport in Israel. It gives you an automatic 25% discount on fares compared to paying by cash - more if you are registered as youth, student, or senior citizen.
The card can be recharged with pay-as-you-go "wallet" credit (Hebrew: erech tzabur or arnak) and with special fare cards (each one called a "contract", Hebrew: hozeh) like a daily, weekly or monthly pass or a multi-ride ticket.
There are three types of cards:
- Anonymous: An anonymous card that can be charged with money credit or with some special fare products (like a round-trip ticket, or a day or week pass). This card can be purchased for ₪10 from any bus driver during the ride, and money then added to it. Alternatively the card can be bought at an Metronit ticket charge machine if you happen to be in the Haifa metropolitan area.
- Registered: Includes the passenger's details and photo. This type is obligatory for some special fare classes, like the monthly pass or for receiving a youth, student or senior citizen discount. A registered card is insured for loss or theft. The passenger's usage history will be recorded and saved for statistical purposes. This card can be obtained only at Rav-Kav service centers during business hours. Although an Israeli ID is usually used for card issuance, you can also use a passport, and it doesn't have to be an Israeli one. Although the clerks might initially refuse to issue a personal card to a foreigner due to lack of training, you can insist to try to still issue it against a foreign passport. It works, though the clerks may be left surprised that it worked.
- Half-registered: Same as Registered, but doesn't record the passenger's usage history. Only the current ride is recorded, temporarily, to allow for fare inspection.
Almost everywhere, the simplest way to use the card is to add money to your "wallet" accumulated value account. It's only possible to add fixed amounts of ₪30, ₪50, ₪100, ₪150 and ₪200 which are loaded to the card with the appropriate discounts (i.e. a ₪50 payment will add ₪62.5 to the regular passenger profile etc.). This money can then be used bit by bit to pay for fares.
As of January 2017, "wallet" payments are accepted everywhere except:
- Jerusalem light rail: accepted, but cannot validate several passengers on same trip on one card, if the trip originates from the light rail;
- Works if you took an Egged city bus first, while explicitly noting you need the ticket that allows transfer to the light rail (code overlap issue, the bus can validate you both a trip that can and also one that can not be used to transfer to the light rail, and these two tickets share the same code 62 on same fare price, so beware and ask the correct ticket, otherwise a light rail fine is guaranteed);
- Dimona and Rechasim city bus (Ticket code 61 used there, overlaps with another fare code, causing issues);
- Lines of Egged Taavurah in the Binyamin area (Zone 2.2 of Jerusalem metropolitan area, or area 694, ticket fares 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 63);
- No 90min transfers on Egged Taavurah lines in zone 255 (any zone of Egged Taavurah service that is outside of the main metropolitan areas);
- Route 20 in the Arava.
In the near future, the "wallet" should be accepted on these lines too.
For intercity rail, on each station there are ticket machines you can use to buy either individual rides one-way as paper tickets without discounts, (it is no longer possible to get round-trip tickets on paper tickets without Rav-Kav), or load them as ticket contracts to the Rav-Kav, which you then validate on the turnstiles (be sure to validate on the exit turnstiles at your destination, for the used ticket to no longer occupy one of the 8 slots of the card). You can use cash or credit cards to load round-trip tickets, books of 6 or 12 trips between the chosen stations, a weekly ticket or a monthly ticket. "Wallet" value that is already on the card can also be used, but only to pre-validate one-way train trips (select the lower button on the ticket machine screen "Validate trip using accumulated value" then select your destination, while noting the price (it's also possible to cancel that validation, if you decide to not travel), actual wallet deduction occurs on the entry turnstiles to the platforms).
If you buy a daily, weekly or a monthly pass for the appropriate metropolitan area transport zones, the pass is valid for both bus and train travel within these included zones. E.g. in Tel-Aviv if you get a day or week pass that covers both Zone 1 and Zone 2 (Gush-Dan Extended, sharing symbol 142), you can use it for unlimited travel on buses and between all train stations that are included in those zones as long as your day or week pass is valid. See map on the bottom of page here.
After paying on a bus with the Rav-Kav, keep your paper receipt for the duration of the ride, in case of inspection. Validators at the back doors of some lines (Lines 1, 189 and some others in Tel Aviv area, some lines in Jerusalem, and every line of Beer Sheva) won't give you a paper receipt, but just display your ride on the screen. In that case, inspection will just read the card.
If your smartphone has an NFC module, you can check the rides you have purchased, as well as your ride history using some apps. Check at your smartphone's app store.
It is possible to obtain a card reader in Rav-Kav service centers and recharge the card yourself using credit cards at HopOn (for Tel-Aviv and Beer Sheva metropolitan areas tickets), at RavKavOnline (for most other tickets), or at https://tickets.rail.co.il/ for remote purchase of train ticket contracts. If you use that, you still have to actually load the card with your purchased train tickets at the ticket machine (select language, place the card and verify) of your origin train station. There's a gap between databases update: you must wait about 45 minutes between your purchase and the actual loading to the card, otherwise the ticket machine won't find your transaction.
Note that service taxis (sherut), which run on fixed routes like bus lines, do not accept the Rav-Kav.
The level of passenger information provided by the companies varies. Each company is responsible for information on its services, and won't help you with other companies' routes (for this reason, the Ministry of Transport has established an unified information center). Fellow passengers are usually very friendly and helpful (sometimes overwhelmingly so) and it is advised to ask them.
At stations and stops
In many central stations you can find electronic information boards, which provide info on destinations, platforms and times of departures within the next hour. These boards usually have a column for English names, but are ordered by Hebrew alphabet. In big terminals it might take a few minutes until you get the info you need.
In central stations you will find manned information booths. There may be separate booths for the separate bus companies that serve a station.
Bus stops in cities and on the roads are marked by a yellow metal "flag". The route numbers that stop there are marked on the flag, generally accompanied by the destinations. These signs are usually both in Hebrew and English, but on opposite sides of the sign. Sometimes, though, the English version is incomplete. Some bus stops have their ID number (5 digits) written at the top of the yellow sign, to identify your location with phone hotlines and some smartphone apps. You may also find route maps posted on the wall of the stop shed. If you need help reading this info or are just clueless, don't be shy to ask other passengers.
By Internet and smartphone
Most companies provide information by Internet, but like other aspects of their service the quality varies greatly. Some companies have recently introduced real-time phone information service. Look out for this at the top or bottom of the flag at bus stops.
- Bus.gov.il - Run by the Israeli Ministry of Transport, this site provides information for all bus and train routes in the country. This is the most useful and authoritative information center, but is only in Hebrew.
- Bus.co.il - This privately run site is intuitive and can be used in English. However, its information is unofficial and its schedule information might be less reliable than the "official" sites. Note that their call center has a premium-rate number (1-900, 2 NIS per min.)
- Egged - The official site of Israel's largest bus operator. Works great for its own routes, useless for other companies' routes. Hebrew and English.
- Jerusalem transportation planner - Provides comprehensive information and trip planning for Jerusalem alone. This is an official site and is reliable. Hebrew and English.
- Ministry of Transportation (Call-Kav): Dial *8787 or 072-2588787 (for phones with no access to *star numbers) or send an SMS message (Hebrew) to 8787. Call center hours: Weekdays 7.00-23.00, Friday 8.00-15.00, Saturday 30 minutes after end of Shabat to 23.00.
- Egged (pronounced "Eh-ged"), ☎ . (or *2800 in Israel)Call center hours: Su-Th 06:30-21:00, F 07:30-15:00, Sa from end of Sabbath to 23:00. There is call center service in English, Hebrew and Russian.
- Dan, ☎ . (or *3456 in Israel)Call center hours: Su-Th 07:00-21:00, F 07:00-13:00, Sa 18:00-22:00. Computer service available 24/7. Call center languages: Hebrew, English, Russian and Spanish
- Metropoline, ☎ , (or *5900 in Israel)fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Call center: 24/7 (except on Shabbat). The call center is initially in Hebrew only, but dial 7 for service by agent and you'll be served in English and possibly other languages
- Afikim: Dial *6686 from any phone, 24 hours a day (except on Shabbat). Initial response is in Hebrew only, but dial *7 for service by agent and you'll be served in English and possibly other languages. Online info: 054-6600088 (service in Hebrew and Russian only).
- Nateev Express: Dial 1599559559. Same number also for Nazareth Travel and Tourism and Nazareth United Bus Services.
- Superbus: Dial 08-9205005. Call center hours: Weekdays 7.00-22.00, Friday 8.00-14.00, Saturday 19.30-22.00.
- Dan BaDarom: Dial *5467 from any phone.
- Dan Beersheva: Dial *3527 from any phone.
Intercity bus lines are classified in 3 categories: 'Regular'/'Collecting' (me'asef), 'Express' (express), and 'Direct' (yashir).
Me'asef buses collect passengers at many stops along their route, which makes it a slow journey. If you're travelling between major cities, avoid these buses. On the other hand, if you're travelling to a minor destination, this may be your only option.
Express buses usually travel on long-distance routes; they might use the same route as the me'asef for certain sections (or even the entire ride), but stop at fewer stations. Express buses normally don't pick up passengers for short journeys on which a me'asef bus line is available.
Direct lines are either pure non-stop routes, or might have few stops in the cities of departure and arrival. There's no extra charge for faster buses.
Bus lines are designated by a 1- to 3-digit number. Urban and suburban lines usually have 1 or 2 digits, while intercity lines normally have 3 digits. There are exceptions, like intercity lines with 2 digits (those might have a preceding 0 to make it 3 digits), or suburban lines with 3 digits (the first digit may be 1 or 2, but not higher). The last digit of intercity lines often suggests its category. The fastest routes usually have digit 0 or 5, while the digits 1 and 3 are associated with slow lines. Digits 2, 4, 6 and 9 are usually express lines.
There is night bus service centered on the Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Be'er Sheva metropolitan areas, with lines extending as far as Tiberias and Arad. Routes are aimed at young people seeking entertainment, who might otherwise drive drunk or not be able to go out at all. Night buses are typically operated by the regular bus operator in each region, but have distinct numbers and routes. Operating days and times vary by route, but routes typically only run on weekends (Thursday to Sunday nights), and some routes only run during summers or school breaks. The official night bus website contains information in Hebrew. Information in English can be found each bus company's web site.
Due to the relatively short bus journeys, there are no toilets on buses in Israel. It's best advised to empty yourself prior to taking the bus. Toilets are available in all central bus stations. Routes that take longer than about 3 hours, such as Tel Aviv to Tiberias or Kiryat Shmona, make a 10 minute rest stop in the middle of the route, where toilets are available. There are two stops on routes to Eilat. If you are desperate for a bathroom break, you can ask the driver and he might let you go at the side of the road (particularly when the next stop is a long way away).
Intercity buses have an underneath baggage compartment where you can store your bags while traveling. You can also store a bicycle there. City buses do not have a baggage compartment, and it is forbidden to bring bikes aboard (except folding bikes).
The driver will often have the radio playing, even late at night. Many drivers object to cell phone conversations being held behind their seats.
If you want to have the heat or air conditioning adjusted, or have the radio adjusted - just ask the driver. Of course, this goes both ways.
Often, separate routes serve centers of Israel's Haredi ('ultra-Orthodox') population. This community is relatively poor, but well-organized, so they use public transportation at very high rates and get extra routes customized to meet their needs.
On these routes, certain rabbis attempted to introduce strict gender separation, with men sitting in the front of the bus and women in the back, with the routes referred to as mehadrin lines. The Egged bus company initially supported this step as a business model that catered to the Haredi market. But in 2011, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that this arrangement is discriminatory and illegal. After this ruling, there were attempts to have lines where men and women voluntarily chose to sit in the front and back, sometimes backed by vigilante harassment or attacks on those who sat elsewhere. However, as of 2016 this seems to have failed, with both sexes sitting throughout the bus even on overwhelmingly Haredi lines, and harassment is much rarer and seems to turn into a media event whenever it happens. To be absolutely sure, when you get on a bus in Haredi areas, follow the lead of the passengers who are already on it.
It is still considered polite not to sit next to a stranger of the opposite sex if there are other available seats. If you do sit next to a Haredi member of the opposite sex, they may get up and move to a different seat or else stand.
An advantage of intercity Haredi routes is that they typically make many stops in each city's Haredi neighborhoods, rather than just the central bus station. (This often saves a local bus ride at the end on trip, especially useful very late at night when local buses have stopped running. But it makes the routes slower.) A disadvantage is that they often run less frequently, so check the schedule first. However, they often run at times other buses do not, especially late at night.
Haredi-oriented routes can often be identified by their terminus - for example, most intercity Haredi routes in Jerusalem begin and end their route at Har Hotzvim/Atirot Mada, rather than the Central Bus Station.
City buses and bus stops were frequently the targets of suicide bombers in the 1990s and early 2000s. Though this is very rare nowadays, it is still a risk one should be aware of. If you see anyone acting suspiciously, or discover an unattended parcel, immediately notify the driver, a soldier, or a police officer. If you can, avoid standing in large crowds of people in order to further minimize any risk.
Buses that travel into the West Bank are often armored to protect against shooting or rock-throwing attacks.
If you're waiting at a bus stop with multiple routes, stick out a hand/finger (also the Israeli hitchhiking sign) to flag down the driver as the bus approaches. If he or she doesn't realize you're waiting for that particular bus, you may get passed by completely. Do not wave, some drivers think that means you DON'T want that particular bus. If there's a large crowd to get on the bus, don't be afraid to assert yourself firmly (but not impolitely) when people try to push ahead of you.
If you want the driver to tell you your stop, it is best to be clear about it. If you just tell the driver where you want to go, he may ask you at the following stop why you didn't get off. Also, he might forget, so it is often better to ask the passengers.
While Israeli manners may be rougher than in some other countries, they are also more likely to actually help you, with several people debating the best route for you.