The following article was originally written by Tzvi Szajnbrum, Attorney at Law whose non-profit organization Voleh assists olim not only with legal matters but also with advice regarding assimilation. I recently edited and added to this document for him and hope that it will make traveling around Israel easier for you.
Transportation: A Guide to Traveling Throughout Israel
As we know, Israel is a very small country1 and therefore distances are not very great when one needs to get from one place to another. By following the general advice listed here, we hope to help you and spare you any uncomfortable situations that a new immigrant or even a tourist might face due to lack of knowledge.
Remember! The following rules and advice are not in place of any law. One must always follow the local laws and rules. If you are not sure about a law, approach any policeman and ask. They will be glad to assist you.
Mostly reliable, inexpensive but sometimes the routes are a little difficult to understand.
Years ago there were only two bus companies in Israel—Dan which covered the greater Tel Aviv area and Egged which covered the rest. Due to the government’s efforts at privatization, there are now quite a number of private bus companies working in the public sector in addition to the two above and these include Superbus (Modiin, Beit Shemesh), Metropoline (Beer Sheva and Southern Israel), Elite (Beitar), and a few others.
Public transportation is regulated by the government and is required by law to stop running before the entrance of Shabbat and Jewish holidays and not start up again until the Sabbath or holiday is over2. On the day before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the bus service stops around 2 p.m. On Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, buses do run but are on a “holiday” schedule with much fewer buses. Before holidays and school vacations bus companies often put on extra buses but one should check with the company in their area, for exact information.
Subways (Metro): There are currently no subways in Israel.
Trains: Although there has always been train service in Israel, trains were hardly used. Nowadays, trains have been upgraded and routes extended with millions of commuters a year. Trains are reliable and comfortable (you can even use your laptop) and are mostly on schedule but limited in routes. Please check the timetable and destinations when planning a train ride. Another problem of commuting by train is the lack of transportation to the train stations as most train stations are located far away from bus stops.
One of the available train routes leads straight into Ben Gurion Airport (Terminal 3). It is a great ride and very comfortable.
Light Train (Rakevet Kala): Although so far, there are none in Israel, massive preparations are currently underway in the city of Jerusalem and other cities (causing mass disturbances to city traffic) to prepare for the light train.
Taxis – Sherut: These are taxis that fill up with 5 to 10 passengers, depending on taxi size, that go to specific locations without making all the stops of a bus and at a cost that is pretty similar to that of a bus ride. They mostly travel from Central Bus Station to Central Bus Station and don’t begin their route until they are full. Prices are controlled by the Ministry of Transportation.
Regular Taxis – Moniot: There are many stories and legends about Israeli taxi drivers. Sometimes a taxi is the best and fastest way to get where you want to go but it is also the most expensive.
The price of a taxi ride between cities is determined by law, so be a smart consumer and check out the prices beforehand. Many taxi drivers like to take advantage of non-Hebrew speakers.
The biggest problem for new Olim and Tourists is the failure of the taxi driver to start the meter. Taxi drivers are required to use the meter by law and if your taxi driver refuses, it is your right to demand it from him!
The price for the ride is usually the price on the meter but there are a few exceptions: There is a charge for extra pieces of luggage and there is sometimes an extra charge if picked up on the street and/or ordered by phone; and there is a charge for leaving the airport. There is also a higher rate for night taxi rides (usually after 9 p.m. but already built in the meter itself).
When entering the taxi, give your driver short, clear instructions on where you need to go. If you know a quick way to get to your destination, tell your driver. But, as taxi drivers are in constant touch with their dispatcher, they may know that a certain road is closed or crowded and prefer to go a different way. Be sure that the meter is on. Try not to agree to a pre-settled fare unless you are sure that the fare is a fair one!3 Remember that the meter racks up both time and distance so if you know that there is a big traffic jam out there, it might pay for you to be “off the meter.” Remember, you can give a tip if you want but you don’t have to. Most Israelis do not tip taxi drivers. Always ask for a receipt at the end of the ride.
Be sure you did not forget anything in the car. If you feel that “something” is wrong before the ride even starts, get out of the cab and catch another one. Be aware that on a rainy day, it might be difficult to catch a cab at all.
The TourPlanIsrael site has a full list in Hebrew and small list in English of Taxi companies and contact information.
Private Transportation: Despite all the lessons required to get a driving license, Israelis are, in general, bad drivers. They drive fast, don’t keep to the speed limit, pass cars indiscriminately and basically don’t respect the rights of others on the road! Be Aware! Be Careful! And remember, fuel is very expensive in Israel.
Rental Cars: To rent a car in Israel the driver must: Be over 21 years of age, hold a valid international driver’s license and a valid credit card.4 Most car rental companies have offices in the large cities in addition to at the airports and big hotels. Here are a few:
It is recommended to reserve a car in advance.
Insurance: Your international insurance (American or from any other country) is NOT valid in Israel. Not even the one given by your credit card!
Traffic Rules and Guidance
In Israel, cars drive on the right.
Traffic signs and regulations are generally standard and resemble those of Western Europe. Left or right turning on a red light is strictly forbidden in Israel. Israeli road signs are not always clear or reliable. Although usually written in two or three languages, the transliterations are not very clear. You can view samples of many (but not all) Israeli road signs here:
- Wikipedia – Road Signs in Israel
- WikiMedia Commons – Photos of Road Signs
- WikiMedia Commons – Diagrams of Road Signs
- Wikipedia also has a nice diagram of road number signs and symbols.
- Israel Ministry of Transport and Road Safety Traffic Planning document contains diagrams and explanations (in Hebrew) of all signs and laws.
Traffic circles (roundabouts) are found everywhere in the country; generally, one yields to cars already in the circle. But many Israeli drivers ignore this rule so proceed with caution.
Police vehicles and ambulances always travel with flashing blue and red lights on top of the vehicle. Only if their siren is sounding do drivers have to merge to the right, making way for the emergency vehicles.
Double yellow lines forming a separate lane are exclusive lanes for public transportation such as buses and taxies. In some cases, a fully occupied vehicle can use the lane as well.
Traffic Lights: Prior to turning red, the green light on the traffic light blinks three times (one blink per-second) and then turns amber for another 3 seconds. Only then does it turn red.
Talking on a cell phone without a hands-free system is forbidden by Israeli law but sadly, most Israelis ignore this law. Please be aware that the fine for this is high5.
Pedestrians have the right of way! Watch out for pedestrians who may be crossing in the path of your vehicle. Israeli law stipulates that from the moment a pedestrian foot leaves the sidewalk for the road, oncoming vehicles must stop and give him the right of way.
Seat belts must be worn at all times in all seats of the vehicle.
Headlights are required by law to be on from November 1st to April 1st on main roads and highways– and of course at night.
Speed is measured in kilometers per hour (not miles). Default Speed limits are:
- 50 km/h in residential zones;
- 80 km/h on intercity roads without a physical separation median between opposing lanes;
- 110 km/h for Road 6, a toll road
- 100 km/h on main highways between cities except on sections where listed otherwise;
- 90 km/h on intercity roads with a physical separation median
- Pay attention to signs! They will show the right speed limit.
Light-Reflecting Vests must be in every vehicle. Upon exiting a vehicle on the side of an interurban road, the driver must wear the vest in order to be seen by passing cars, unless standing on a sidewalk. In a case in which more than one person exits the car, at least one person must be wearing the vest.
Regulations are indicated by curb markings:
- Red and white markings mean parking is prohibited.
- It is illegal to stop near curbs marked red and yellow (reserved buses at bus stops.
- Blue and white markings permit parking for a fee which is paid by obtaining a parking permit purchased at a machine or a parking meter, phone (call *4500 and follow instructions) or a smart card called Easy Park.
- There is no parking allowed in handicapped zones (unless you are handicapped and have a valid permit).
Israel has a few main highways (marked with single digits: 1, 4, 5) which connect most destinations throughout the country, but the roads are not very well maintained6.
Kvish 6 (Highway Road 6) is the first private toll road in Israel where traffic speed limits are higher than on regular roads. Traffic is often less congested here as well. The price you pay is based on how far you have traveled on the road—i.e., where you have gotten on and off. Unfortunately, the price for traveling this road is high—even if you take out a membership. When the road is completely finished it will extend from Eilat in the South to Kiryat Shmoneh in the north. Currently it starts in the lower Galilee in the north and is almost a half hour away from Beer Sheva in the south.
Note: the sign to the left displays the Toll Road symbol
Due to security reasons, we strongly advise you not to do this. If you are not aware of the roads and the security situation in the area, you will be endangering yourself. Unfortunately, there are many Israelis in a rush to get places who use hitchhiking as a way to get places cheaply and quickly, rather than waiting for a bus.
The most acute problem when hitchhiking is “knowing who is behind the wheel” of the car that stops for you. Save yourself from trouble and just take a bus for you own safety.
Have a safe trip!
1 Area: 20,330 square miles.
2 There are a few exceptions to the rule of no bus service on Saturday, most notably in Haifa.
3 Always talk to the driver in Hebrew although he may also know English, Arabic or Russian.
4 Almost all credit cards are accepted.
6 There is one toll road – Kvish 6 and it is well-maintained.