Local buses reach every corner of major cities, but if you don’t read Hebrew it can be a challenge to figure out the bus routes – just ask locals or any passing bus driver.
Almost every town, village and kibbutz has bus service at least a few times a day – except, that is, from mid-afternoon on Friday until Saturday in the late afternoon or evening, when the vast majority of intercity lines don’t run at all (exceptions include services to Eilat and Majdal Shams).
Tickets are sold at bus station ticket windows and by bus drivers; exact change is not needed. Return tickets, available on a few lines (eg to Eilat), cost 15% less than two one-way tickets.
Most discounts are available only if you have a rechargeable Rav-Kav smartcard, which comes in two versions: personalised (ishi), which has your picture on it and requires filling out an application; and anonymous (anonimi), which is sold at stations (5NIS) and by drivers (10NIS) and is transferable but qualifies you for only limited discounts. The good news is that both get you 20% off all fares; the bad news is that at present, you need a separate Rav-Kav account for each bus company (a single card can hold up to eight accounts).
Israel no longer has a bus duopoly (the Egged and Dan cooperatives used to divide the country between them). Rather, there are now about 20 companies, including Egged and Dan, that compete for routes in Ministry of Transport tenders. The Public Transportation Info Center (www.bus.co.il), a snap to use once you figure it out, provides details in English on all bus companies’ routes, times and prices. Smartphone apps for Android and iPhones can be downloaded from the website. To get information via SMS (text message), send a question (in Hebrew) beginning with the word otobus to 4949.
Bus companies you’re likely to run across:
Nateev Express (www.nateevexpress.com)
Nazareth Tourism & Transport (www.ntt-buses.com)
The only bus tickets that need to be (or can be) ordered in advance are Egged tickets to/from Eilat, which can be reserved up to 14 days ahead via www.egged.co.il, by smartphone app or by phone (dial 2800 or 03-694 8888). Note: the system may only accept Israeli credit cards; PayPal may also be an option.