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Get around in Israel

Posted by in on 6-10-13

In getting around Israel, be aware of the Sabbath: from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, train and bus services are not available in Israel (except in Haifa, Nazareth and Eilat, and limited sherut services – shared taxis, see below). Unless you have a car, or are willing to pay for a taxi (not shared), if you’re day tripping on a Friday, you should start thinking about how to get back by noon at the latest, and you should plan on staying near your lodgings on Saturday.

Also note that both youth and students usually get discounts at buses and trains. Showing a valid student ID will usually entitle you for 10% discount for one-way long-distance travel, while for short distance bus travel those below the age of 18 can usually get half-priced Kartysia – a punch-card valid for 20 rides. Each bus driver has a hole-puncher which makes a unique shape on the card. Both the card and (when given) a receipt must be kept until the end of the ride as there are random checks by bus officials.

Public transport is used heavily by soldiers traveling to/from their bases, so a bus or train packed full of soldiers (some armed) is a common occasion and does not indicate any special occurrence. One can expect higher crowding on Thursday evening and Friday morning (due to weekend leave) and very high crowding on Sunday mornings until about 10:00 (due to soldiers returning to their bases).
By bus

Main Article: Bus travel in Israel

Use to help plan your trip.

Buses are the most common form of public transportation for Israelis and travelers alike. They are cheap, fast and reliable. The only problem tourists will face is that it is very difficult to plan your journey through Israel by bus; a problem the main article Bus travel in Israel aims to solve. The extensive national bus system is run by a public corporation called Egged (pronounced “Eg-ged”), the second-largest bus network in the world. Additionally, a bus company called Dan operates mainly in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and other major cities such as Be’er Sheva, check their web site for details. Egged, and Dan have English-speaking representatives with nation wide phone numbers. Some other companies are active as well.
By monit sherut

Faster than normal buses are minivans, known as monit sherut or “service taxi”, that generally follow major bus routes but can be hailed from anywhere on the route (not just official bus stops). They are usually quicker than buses, their operations hours may be longer – and maybe most importantly, in many cases the sherut runs 7 days a week, including on Shabbat.

For inter-city lines, if a driver is at a station he may wait until he has a full load of passengers before leaving. Ben Gurion Airport has a rule that drivers are supposed to leave one hour after getting their first passenger, but that rule seems to be left mostly ignored. The upshot of this is that unless you’re with a group, or the Sherut already has a load of passengers, you might be in for a wait before you leave. Look for an almost full Sherut!
By train

One of the best advances in transport in Israel in recent years has been the modernization of the train system, now set for major expansion as part of the country’s efforts to combat global warming, gridlock, and smog. Israel Railways currently runs intercity lines from Nahariya to Beer Sheva via Haifa, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport (note that not all trains travel the whole route), and suburban lines radiating from Tel Aviv to Binyamina, Ashkelon, Kfar Sava, Rishon LeZion, Modiin and Bet Shemesh. There are also lines between Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem, and between Beer Sheva and Dimona.

Tel Aviv has 4 train stations, and Haifa has as many as 6, providing easy access to many parts of those cities.

Trains run 2-3 times per hour in peak travel times and at least once an hour at off peak hours. Trains on the Nahariya-Haifa-Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion Airport line run through the night too. Note, however, that after midnight trains stop in Haifa at the Hof Hacarmel station only, and in Tel Aviv at Merkaz (Central). All other Tel Aviv and Haifa stations close after midnight. One must also remember that trains operate only on weekdays (there are no trains from Friday afternoon till Saturday evening). In fact, the trains stop several hours earlier on Friday than buses do. Following the re-opening of the renewed tracks from Beer-Sheba to Tel-Aviv, all night trains running this line after midnight stop at Ben Gurion Airport as well ( travel time is approx. 59 minutes).

A high-speed train line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem via Ben Gurion airport is now under construction (as of November 2007, the line is open as far as Modi’in, and service to Ben Gurion airport is fully operational). For now, the only train to Jerusalem via Beit Shemesh is very slow, and it ends in the out-of-the-way Jerusalem Malcha station. It’s Israel’s most scenic rail ride, though, and the area it traverses is sometimes called “Little Switzerland”. In winter, after a rare heavy snowstorm, Jerusalem may get cut off for a up to a day from the rest of the country by road, making the train the only possible connection between the capital and other parts of Israel. The scenic line to Jerusalem was built by the Ottoman Turks and dates back to 1892. Because of the long travel time and inconvenient location of the Jerusalem Malcha station, the line is not widely used. During holiday periods these trains can get crowded, though.

In 2012 a line that will connect Tel Aviv to its southern suburbs – Holon, Bat Yam and Rishon LeZion has also been opened and it continues via Yavne West. This line is currently being extended so it will connect to Ashdod and Ashkelon.

Train fares are generally more expensive then equivalent bus fares (especially for the line from Tel Aviv to Beer Sheva, with the train fare almost double that of the bus fare). In exchange, you can generally expect a much higher level of comfort, speed, and safety.

Some lines have double-decker carriages.
By taxi

Taxis are very common in Israel. To differentiate from a shared taxi (sherut), a regular Israel taxi is sometimes called special (using the English word). The driver should use the meter both inside and outside cities (in Hebrew, moneh), unless the passenger agrees to prefix a price (however agreeing to go off the meter is almost universally in the driver’s favor). There are surcharges; for calling a taxi (₪3.50 as of June 2006), for luggage (₪2.90 a piece) and for hailing a taxi at Ben Gurion Airport (₪5). Drivers are known to try to cheat tourists by not turning on the meter to begin with and then fighting about the cost at the end of the ride. It is best to specify that you absolutely require the ‘moneh’ to be activated before you leave unless you know how much the trip should cost, in which case you can make a deal. However, if you are caught off guard some drivers will become extremely rude or even violent if you refuse to pay despite the meter never having been switched on. It is best to try to avoid this common situation but it is better to avoid any conflict with the driver by paying and learning rather than saving your money and risking an unpredictable escalation. Noting the taxis number clearly visible on the outside of the cab and contacting the local taxi authority is an efficient form of redress.

Having said this one anachronism is that Israeli taxi drivers do not expect a tip and neither should you generally offer one. In addition they are more likely to round the fare down to the nearest shekel than up.

All Israeli taxis are numbered and all print out an official receipt on printers attached to their meters, invaluable if you are traveling on business.

You can use taxi service to get from Ben Gurion airport to almost any city in Israel. Fares are fixed and published and all taxis from the airport belong to the Hadar taci company the taxi queue is rapid efficient and the attendents, though brusque, will help. The taxi point is just by the airport station entrance. Never ever take a touted taxi. transportation from the airport and a good starting point to find a taxi ride would be to visit the Ben Gurion Airport’s taxi guidelines page [5] or booking a taxi from a private taxi company such as Israel Taxi [6] and many others who offer shuttle service from and to Ben Gurion airport. However, trains are a significantly cheaper option.
By thumb

Israel is known to be one of the easiest places to hitchhike in the world. Most major junctions have a shelter and are well lit throughout the night. This is a great way to meet and interact with the locals. A sign can help (put a blank piece of paper inside a plastic sleeve, and with a dry-erase marker you have a reusable hitchhiking sign). When hitchhiking, instead of a thumb, you extend your hand, with 1 or 2 fingers extended, pointing at the road. For short rides, the 1 or 2 fingers should point to the ground. Drivers staying in the area may point downwards while passing, indicating that they wouldn’t make a good long-haul ride.

Generally speaking, hitchhiking in urban areas is less popular than in other parts of Israel. It is more accepted in rural areas, particularly sparsely populated areas like the Golan Heights that have little bus service.

Tourists should note that the British Foreign Office considers it unsafe to hitch-hike in Israel, like most countries in Europe and the Middle East. This advice applies specifically to tourists and is not a comment on the safety of hitch-hiking for locals and is not specific to Israel.

Local West Bank settlers rely heavily on hitchhiking for transportation. Almost every car will stop and suggest a lift if you stand in any settlement’s gate as most of them are defended by IDF soldiers. Nevertheless, It is only safe to hitchhike between Jewish settlements/cities, or a few well known and well defended junctions; any other way is considered especially dangerous – in the past Israeli hitchhikers have been kidnapped and murdered by Arabs while waiting for a ride.

By car
Road system

Israel has a modern highway network, connecting all destinations throughout the country. Most roads are well maintained. In recent years, increased investment into infrastructure has further improved the condition of roads. Most roads are numbered according to orientation and significance. In general, east-west roads are given odd numbers, and north-south roads are given even numbers. The most significant national highways are numbered using one or two digits, while the least significant local roads are numbered using four digits. Exceptions to these rules do exist. Road signs are abundant but often confusing, even to Israelis. When getting directions, it’s best to ask for the name of an exit as well the exit right before it.
Driving regulations

Traffic in Israel drives on the right. Traffic signs and regulations are generally standard and resemble those of Western Europe. Usually, each traffic light has an arrow on top, and the traffic light then controls travel to the indicated direction, with a green light guaranteeing that all conflicting traffic faces a red light. Lights without arrows above them control all directions. Red light always means stop. Turning right or left at a red light is strictly forbidden. There is no turning left or right while yielding to opposite traffic, since conflicting traffic always faces a red light, even in the absence of arrows (however, this is not always the case with pedestrians, particularly when turning right). As in several other countries, the green phase is preceded by a red+yellow combination phase. A flashing green light indicates that the yellow light is about to appear, but can usually be found only on roads with speed limits of at least 60 km/h.

White road markings are used to separate both traffic traveling in the same direction and in opposite directions. Yellow lines are used to mark the outer edges of the road (do not cross these, except if stopping at a shoulder), and orange or red lines are used in road works zones or following a recent change in road signs. Traffic circles (roundabouts) are very common; one gives way to cars already in the circle. There are no all-way stop signs like the ones the USA, Canada, and South Africa. All stop signs require drivers to yield to all conflicting traffic after coming to a complete stop. Highway signage is usually in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, although sometimes just in Hebrew and English.

Headlights must be turned on (even during the day) on intercity highways from November to March. Motorcyclists have to have their headlights on in all months of the year. Seat belts must be worn at all times in all seats. Talking on a cell phone without a hands-free system is forbidden. If one must exit the vehicle on the shoulder of a highway, there is a law requiring that one put on a reflective vest in order to promote visibility. one is also required by law to keep such a vest within the car, and not in the trunk, at all times. Car rental companies are required to supply such a vest and it is usually located inside the glove compartment.

Parking regulations are indicated by curb markings. Red and white markings mean parking is prohibited, although this rule is often flouted outside weekday daytimes. However, just because others are doing so, doesn’t mean your car won’t be fined or towed. Do not stop near curbs marked red and yellow, because these are usually reserved for certain vehicles, such as buses at bus stops.

Blue and white markings permit parking only with a parking permit purchased at a machine. There is not always a machine nearby, if so, parking tickets must be purchased at a local kiosk or a cellphone payment system must be used. In some areas, such as in parts of Tel Aviv, blue and white markings are restricted even at night to residents only. A sign at the beginning of the street, usually in Hebrew only, will explain the specific restrictions. Similarly, red and grey areas are reserved for residents, but might only be reserved at specific times as stated in signs. Grey areas are free to park at. And of course, do not park in handicapped zones bearing international markings.

Israel uses the metric system of measurements. Default speed limits are 50 km/h in residential zones, 80 km/h on intercity roads without a physical separation median between opposing lanes, and 90 km/h on intercity roads with a physical separation median. By default, all major freeways (identified by the standard blue European motorway sign) have a speed limit of 110 km/h; however, in practice, speed limit signs bearing a lower limit (usually 90 km/h or 100 km/h) limit the speed on most of these roads.

Police presence on the roads is generally very significant, and speed and red light cameras are common. Both radar (mostly stationary) and LIDAR (laser, hand-held) are in use for speeding enforcement.

Police vehicles in active duty may have their blue lights on for the duration of their trip. Unlike many countries (such as the US) – In Israel this is not a sign that they want to pull you over. If they do, they would either turn on their siren or use a loudspeaker to instruct you to stop on the shoulder. A verbal request, although usually made in Hebrew, will usually include the make of the car. It is advisable to comply.
Toll Highways

-Israel’s Highway 6 is a electronic-toll-highway, unique in having no toll booths. Traveling cars are identified by license plates and/or electronic tags, and bills are sent to the car’s registered owner.
The cost is determined by the number of segments used:
On the main section (from Iron interchange to Sorek interchange) the minimum charge is for 3 segments (even if you drove through less segments) and the maximum charge is for 5 segments (even if you drove through more segments).
On the northern segment (one segment from Sorek interchange to Ein Tut interchange) there is a separate special charge, as it’s not a part of the main section.
On the southern section (from Sorek interchange to Ma’ahaz interchange) is free of charge.
Various subscriptions are available. Consult your rental company regarding payment of route 6 rides, as they often carry a surcharge.

- The Carmel Tunnels is a set of 4 tunnels (2 in each direction with the Neve Sha’anan interchange between them) that crosses Haifa under the Carmel mountain. The cost is determined by the number of segments that you use (1 or 2 segments). there are toll booths in this road.
Licensing information

All drivers in Israel must carry a driver’s license. International driver permits, as well as licenses from foreign countries are accepted. Drivers of motor vehicles must be at least 17 years old, whilst insurance is mandatory. Driving a motorcycle or a moped is permitted starting at the age of 16, A drivers license is mandatory for two wheel vehicles as well! All cars in Israel must undergo an annual safety inspection, and a sticker bearing the month and year of the next inspection should appear on the front windshield. Recently, there has been a law passed that require for every car to carry a yellow reflective vest at all times. Theoretically, the police could stop you at any time and ask to see it. If you stop on the edge of the road, and have to get out, you are are required by law to wear the vest. All rental cars should have one so it is a good idea to check before you leave. Note that in Israel the police are allowed to stop you for any reason whatsoever; mostly they do so for license checkups.
Safety issues

Car accident fatalities in Israel are par with most European countries and less than half that of the US. However, Israeli drivers are known to be aggressive and impatient. Take this into consideration if you decide to drive in Israel, and use caution – be prepared for other drivers not to yield when they normally should and not to respect your right of way, especially if you show hesitation. Be especially cautious on two-lane intercity roads, especially when passing other vehicles. While most major highways have a physical separation median, many lower-traffic intercity roads do not. Also be particularly cautious when driving in the Negev desert, since most roads in that region have only two lanes carrying fast-moving traffic, and trips tend to last hours in the heat. Take care while traveling on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as roads tend to be emptier and invite faster, and occasionally more reckless, drivers. Also take care in the winter, when it rains and roads are unusually slick. The first rainy days in fall are particularly dangerous, since the oil/grease and other substances that accumulated on the road all summer is dissolved.
Car rental

Most major international car rental companies; Hertz, Avis, Budget and Sixt Israel , as well as many Israeli ones including, Eldan (Israel’s largest car rental company), Traffic and Tamir, a car rental service that delivers and picks up your rental car.

Note that you will be charged VAT for your car rental if you do not produce a visa (for example, if you entered via Allenby and avoided the stamps, although the paper will do). Also, the Israeli government requires expensive insurance on rental cars that can cost up to $20 per day.

If your interest in touring Israel goes beyond the 2 dozen or so famous tourist sites, then consider a private/rental vehicle and a professional tour guide. The tour guide will run about $200/day, plus the vehicle rental. They can take you to more than 1,500 other sites missed by the package tours or aimless personal touring.

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