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, Ashdod, 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.
- Metrodan operates urban lines in Beer Sheva.
- Nazareth United Bus Services and Nazareth Travel and Tourism both operate lines in Nazareth region.
- Dan BaDarom operates lines in the Northern Negev.
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, 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 charged with pay-as-you-go "lump sum" credit (Hebrew: erech tzabur) and with special fare cards (called contracts) like a daily 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 passenger's usage history. It's recorded only for the current ride temporary for cases of fare inspection.
Almost everywhere outside Jerusalem, the simplest way to use the card is to add money to your lump sum 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 (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 November 2016, lump sum payments are accepted everywhere except: Jerusalem light rail; Dimona and Rechasim city bus; some lines of Egged Taavurah; lines of Afikim in the Shomron; route 20 in the Arava. It is planned that by the end of 2016, the lump sum will be accepted on these lines too.
In Jerusalem, although accumulated value lump sum payments are supported on buses, you can not yet use it on the Light Rail and for transfers between bus and the Light Rail. To use the Light Rail you still have to buy individual rides (either singly or in groups of 10) which are loaded onto the Rav-Kav.
For intercity rail, on each station there are ticket machines you can use to buy individual rides one-way as paper tickets without discounts. Train rides can also be loaded to the Rav-Kav and be used that way on the turnstiles. Accumulated lump sum value that is already on the card can be used, but only to purchase and load one-way train trips. You can use cash or credit cards to load round-trip tickets, books of 12 trips between the chosen stations, a weekly ticket or a monthly ticket. It is no longer possible to get round-trip tickets on paper without Rav-Kav.
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 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 (and validators on Lines 1 and 189 in Tel Aviv area) 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. Inquire 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 metropolitan area tickets), at RavKavOnline (for most other tickets), or at https://tickets.rail.co.il/ for remote purchase of train tickets. If you use that, you still have to actually load the card with your purchased train tickets at the entrance to 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 loading 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 Transportation has established a 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 are usually available in English, but may be arranged 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 Transportation, 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).
- Metrodan: Dial *5100 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.
- 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.
Intercity bus lines are classified to 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.
Most intercity lines originate or end in a central bus station or terminal (CBS/CBT). The modern central bus stations built in the last 2 decades often combine bus terminal and shopping center in one building. CBS of this type include those of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa Hof HaCarmel, Rishon LeZion, Ashdod and Rehovot.
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 1st 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.
Often, separate routes serve centers of Israel's Haredi ('ultra-Orthodox') population. 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 someone of the opposite sex (except your family members) 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 Haredi routes in Jerusalem begin and end their route at Har Hotzvim/Atirot Mada, rather than the Central Bus Station.
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.
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.
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.
Note: buses that travel into the West Bank are often armored to be bullet proof.
From Cairo to Jerusalem
To take the bus from Cairo to Israel, buy a ticket from Turgomen Garage (metro stop Orabi) to Taba. There are three buses a day, at 6AM, 9:30AM, and 10:15PM, costing 70LE (except the night bus - 80LE) as of 12/2008, run by the East Delta Travel company. You need to buy a ticket at least one day in advance. Once you get to the bus station, someone should know which bus you take - it's not a big bus station. The Turgomen Garage is recently renovated and the buses leave from a concourse in the basement. The signs are all in English and Arabic. Take either the escalator or the elevators downstairs to find your bus. Do not plan for the bus to depart on time.
Once on board, the bus takes about an hour to even leave Cairo and stops at two other suburban bus stations. On leaving, it will be more full than when it left Turgomen, but may be quite empty depending upon the season and economic climate. Note, that there were almost no women, and the few that were there traveled with their husbands. Be warned: the buses are somewhat unreliable. The one I took stopped for an hour by the side of the road, with the engine (and therefore a/c) off, before the driver got back on and we continued. Another traveler said that on a return trip, the bus broke down five times!
Make sure you take food and plenty of water with you, although the bus will make a stop about 3/4 of the way to Taba at a desert roadhouse, where there is a toilet and small cafe. It also stops at various army bases, depending on the bus, to deliver water and newspapers to the soldiers.
On the approach to Taba, the bus will skirt the airport (which has very few flights) and then descend the mountain road for about 15 minutes. It will stop at the bottom and someone will check passports (can be time consuming when many Arab League citizens are on board), then turn left along the coast road. Finally, it will stop at the "Taba Bus Station", a gravel area with a bus office, with bus times in the window. Get off here, the bus continues on from Taba down the coast to Nuweiba. People will try to get you into a taxi to take you to the border, but don't bother unless you have great difficulty walking, as it is literally less than 500m down the road.
At the border, you have to buy an exit stamp from the Egyptian border guards for 2LE (as of 12/2008); they don't always have change if you arrive early in the day. You then walk to the next building, the air conditioned departure hall, where your bags are scanned, then there's a little food / drink / cigarette kiosk, and then the passport control desk, where you give the card with the departure stamp to the border guard. He then stamps your passport, and you are out of Egypt. Beware: if you plan to reenter Egypt at Taba later, you cannot do so unless you already have a multiple entry visa or you get a 51.25 LE reentry visa (just a stamp in your passport) before you leave; Egypt does not issue visas valid for travel outside the Sinai Peninsula upon entry at Taba.
A few yards further on you get to a duty free shop, then the Israeli building, with cool water mist spray coming from the ceiling of the path shade outside. On entry, again your stuff is scanned, then you queue for immigration. Unlike arriving in Israel by air, here you shouldn't be delayed for more than five minutes of questions. They weren't even put off by me saying I didn't know where I was staying, that I'd find somewhere in the town (of Eilat)!
Once you leave the building you are in Israel proper. To change money, there is a bank in the Israeli departure side (where you have to pay a departure tax for leaving Israel, should you exit by this crossing.) There are hourly buses to the town (Line 15, 6.5 NIS), but the last leaves at 18.20. Taxis will be waiting, charging about 35NIS to go to town. See the Eilat article for information on buses to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other locations.
From Jerusalem to Cairo
You can take the same route as described above, using the following bus schedule:
1. Take bus 444 from Jerusalem direct to Eilat, through the West Bank. Buses leave regularly between 7AM or at 5PM (times are 7AM, 10AM, 2PM and 5PM as of 2011. You should check the current schedule online.) If you take a later bus you will have to sleep overnight in Eilat. Arrival is about 5 hours after departure. Price is about 60NIS.
2. If you slept over night in Eilat, then take a taxi to the border crossing (around 30NIS), so you will arrive there latest at 5:45AM. If you took the morning bus, take local bus 15 from Eilat's bus station, leaving every full hour (take the 2PM bus latest) to Taba's border crossing (7.5NIS).
3. Cross the border (you remembered to get an Egyptian visa in advance, right? Available from the Egyptian consulate in Eilat or the embassy in Tel Aviv) and after you finished crossing (and paying the Israelis 96NIS "border tax"), ignore all the taxi drivers and walk on the sidewalk on the left side of the road for 300m, till the bus station. Not having a visa in advance is expensive! the stamp for the passport cost $15, but you will be required to provide a "guarantee" from an official travel agent. These "travel agents" wait around and charge $50 per person for an handwritten paper that they give to the immigration officer. Without the guarantee letter, the passport will not be stamped and you will be sent back to Eilat.
4. There is a bus by East Delta to Cairo at 6:30AM or 4:30PM. (As of 2009, first bus to Cairo on a Sunday is at 10:30 not 06:30.) Buy a ticket from the cashier (around 80EGP, 30/12/11), and wait for the bus a while, since it's usually late. The bus will stop 20m after the bus station, and you will have to pay 75EGP "tourist tax". There are also 10-passenger minivans that make the run 'non-scheduled' and you can negotiate the fare, but be prepared for no 'rest' stops, only stops to drop off or pick up passengers along the way. Their destination in Cairo is not the central bus station, but you can get a taxi from there.
5. You will arrive in Abbasiya terminal in Cairo. If you take a taxi, do not take it from any of the touts that bother you in the exit! You can hail one yourself very easily, it shouldn't be more than 10EGP to the city center. Alternatively, you can take a microbus to Tahrir square from across the street (1.5EGP).