Buses are the most common form of public transportation for Israelis and foreign visitors alike. They are generally frequent and modern, but often slow. You must use a Rav-Kav card in order to pay for bus rides.
There are several bus companies in Israel, but all routes and schedules are mandated by the ministry of transportation. The ministry issues tenders on bus routes, so that most bus routes typically change operator roughly every 10 years. The bus transport system has undergone changes since about 2000, 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.
The current operators include:
- Egged (pronounced "Eh-ged"), ☎ (or *2800 in Israel). Call Center: Su-Th 06:30-21:00, F 07:30-15:00, Sa from end of Sabbath to 23:00. 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. Has a call center service in English, Hebrew and Russian
- Dan, ☎ (or *3456 in Israel). Call center: Su-Th 07:00-21:00, F 07:00-13:00, Sa 18:00-22:00. Computer service available 24/7. The second largest company in Israel and the principal operator within the metropolitan Tel Aviv area (Gush Dan). 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. 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, ☎ (Online info service in Hebrew and Russian only. Dial *6686 from any Israel phone). Call center hours: 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. 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, ☎ . Call center hours: Weekdays 7.00-22.00, Friday 8.00-14.00, Saturday 19.30-22.00.. Operates lines in Beit Shemesh, Yokneam, Tiberias, Lower Galilee and the Afula region.
- Nateev Express, ☎ 1-599-559559 (premium). 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, ☎ (*3553). operate lines in Nazareth region.
- Nazareth Travel and Tourism, ☎ 1-599-559559 (premium). Also operate lines in Nazareth region.
- Dan BaDarom, ☎ (press * after the recorded message or dial *5467 in Israel), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. operates lines in the Northern Negev.
- Dan Beersheva, ☎ (or *3527 in Israel), fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. operates urban lines in Beer Sheva.
Major cities have Central Bus Stations (תחנה מרכזית, "takhana merkazit"), which are the terminals 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.
Local buses are most often always cheaper (up to twice) than intercity buses (like Egged), even though they stop more often and thus take longer. So it is a good idea to rely on them for trips around the area, e.g. Golan Heights. Travellers on a shoestring might even consider taking several local buses in a row, to enjoy the landscape and save money.
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 travel 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. The only form of payment for bus rides is using the Rav-Kav. You MUST use a Rav-Kav in order to ride buses in Israel. Rav-Kav is a card used for payment on all forms of public transport in Israel. It can be "charged" with Israeli shekel for random rides, or prepaid discount deals for multiple rides on specific bus routes. The card offers some additional discount for registered youth, student, or senior citizen. It may be possible to obtain a Rav-Kav when you board the bus then use it to pay for your ride, though it may be prone to problems (language difficulties, drivers that don't have an available card etc'). You can obtain Rav-Kav in Ben Gurion Airport, Terminal 3, Arrivals hall - in a selling post that is open Sun-Thr 07:00-23:00, and Fri 07:00-15:00. It's possible to receive a refund for specific rides you bought in advance or for discount deals. You can use an app to get the refund if you have an Android phone that supports NFC (iPhones are not supported). Refund without one is a more complicated process. Currently, you can't get a refund for loaded money credit on the card, so don't load more than you need or are comfortable to lose.
There are three types of cards:
- 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 train stations or at Metronit ticket charge machines in Haifa. Starting next year, passengers won't be able to load or buy these cards from bus drivers on certain lines.
- Includes the passenger's details and photo. Only registered Rav-Kav cards can be used to purchase special fare classes (like the monthly pass), or to receive 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. This card can be obtained only at Rav-Kav service centers during business hours. You must show ID (Israeli and foreign passports are accepted, as are Israeli ID cards.) 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 or Semi-anonymous
- Same as Registered, but doesn't record the passenger's usage history. Only the current ride is recorded, temporarily, to allow for fare inspection. This type of card offers the same discounts of the Registered card but is not insured for loss or theft.
The card can be recharged with pay-as-you-go "wallet" credit (Hebrew: erekh tzavur 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.
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 for a single passenger, but it's more complicated when multiple passengers are traveling on a single Rav-Kav:
- If the trip begins on the light rail, you cannot validate several passengers on same trip on one card. If you took an Egged city bus first, you can, but you must while explicitly tell the driver that you need the ticket which allows transfer to the light rail. (This is a 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 Android 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. iPhones can't be used for this purpose even if they include an NFC module.
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 yet (as of November 2018).
The best way to find out routes and schedules is to use apps or websites that combine information about all bus and railway companies, such as Google Maps and Moovit.
The level of passenger information provided by the companies varies. Each company is responsible for information on its services, and are not aware of other companies' routes or times (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.
Many bus stops have real-time arrival info screens. Real-time info can also be found in apps such as Moovit and EfoBus.
By Internet and smartphone
Most companies provide information by Internet, but like other aspects of their service the quality varies greatly.
- Google Maps provide trip planning.
- Ministry of Transportation ("Call-Kav", Bus.gov.il), ☎ , (or *8787). Call center hours: Weekdays 7.00-23.00, Friday 8.00-15.00, Saturday 30 minutes after end of Shabat to 23.00. or send an SMS message (Hebrew) to 8787. This service is run by the Israeli Ministry of Transport, and provides information for all bus and train routes in the country. This is the most useful and authoritative information center, but website and SMS are 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 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.
- EfoBus. Privately run website with online information for the arrival of buses to stations. Can be used with the 5 digits station code, that is on every station's "Yellow Flag"
- Moovit. Privately run public transportation app. Probably the best smartphone app. Provides real-time bus arrival times for your stop, as well as trip planning.
- Use the call centers of each and every bus company, as listed in the beginning of this article.
Kavey Layla (Night routes). These are night bus service centered on the large metropolitan areas, with lines extending even to 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 website for this service 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.
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.
Often, separate routes serve centers of Israel's Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jews) 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 hasn't happened in many years now, 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.