April 27th 2015
Public buses are everywhere in Israel, as Israelis from all sectors of society depend on them to get around. There are approximately 20 bus companies operating in Israel. Some, such as Metrodan in Beersheva or Rama-Golan in the Golan, operate regionally. The major bus companies are Egged, which runs routes countrywide but especially in the greater Jerusalem area, and Dan, in the greater Tel Aviv area.
Residents of Israel can buy personalized fare smartcards called Rav Kav cards, which are about the same size as a credit card. In addition, visitors can buy “anonymous” Rav Kav cards on board buses for NIS 5 (about $1.25). Using your credit card, you can load a Rav Kav card at electronic kiosks with a single fare or any number of combination tickets for multiple rides. Some routes, especially those in Judea and Samaria, are government subsidized. In addition, by law, senior citizens are entitled to pay half fare.
Most cities in Israel have a central bus station where intercity buses leave for destinations all over the country. Some central bus stations are quite elaborate and resemble multi-level shopping malls. Others are much more modest and feature just a few vending stalls that sell packaged foods and coffee.
When you’re traveling by bus in Israel, Moovit is a great smartphone app that allows you to plan a trip by public bus. If you’re waiting at a bus stop and want to know if you have time to buy a falafel across the street, just tap the bus stop icon on the Moovit map, and you’ll be able to see which buses serve that station and when the next bus is expected to arrive.
A few local tips. It’s important to be aware that public buses in many Israeli locales don’t operate from late Friday afternoon until Saturday evening after sundown. Also, ride any local bus in any city in Israel, and you’ll almost certainly see parents loading strollers through the double doors in the back. It’s only once the baby is settled and the bus is on its way that you’ll notice the parent walking up to the driver to pay, which is accepted practice – these people are not trying to ride for free. Finally, listen for locals boldly calling out, “Nahag!” whenever they want to get the driver’s attention, one of the most amusing aspects of riding buses in Israel.