Jerusalem‘s public transportation system is undergoing significant changes–the much-awaited Light Rail project got underway in mid-August and is still in the testing phase. Once the system is fully operational, many of the city’s bus lines will change routes and numbers and a period of organized chaos will probably result.
For visitors interested in the best way to access historical, religious or cultural sites, the best advice is to buy a good map and try to walk to most places. Many of Jerusalem’s gems are within easy walking distance of the major hotels, and most Israelis speak English and are only too keen to help hapless tourists and practice their language skills.
If you do decide to take public transportation–to get to Yad Vashem, for instance–the Light Rail is not a bad choice. Until at least mid-October, it’s free and you can stroll down Jaffa Road in central Jerusalem, do a bit of window shopping and catch the train at any of the stops along the road. Destinations and arrival times of the next train are digitally displayed at the stations. Once you’re on the train, announcements of the next station are made in English as well as Hebrew, and you’ll even be able to ride over the striking Caltrava Bridge at the entrance to the city.
To venture further afield–to the Biblical Zoo, say, you’ll have to take a bus. Click here for a Jerusalem Bus route app. Bus stops are easily identifiable by their covered bench and square yellow sign marked with the number and final destination of each route. It’s not a bad idea to ask the driver for your destination when you board the bus to make sure you’re going in the right direction.
Exact change is not necessary for Jerusalem buses. The adult fare for a single ride is currently 6.40 NIS (around $1.85) and includes a transfer good for 80 minutes, which you can use for your return journey if you’ll be back on the bus within the 80 minutes.
Get on the bus at the front door only, and give the driver your money–it’s a standard fare, not dependent on distance traveled. Wait for the ticket and transfer to print out of the machine by his side and go and find a seat. Chances are your neighbor will strike up a conversation and by the time you reach your destination you may well have an invitation for dinner.
If you need to travel between cities in Israel, head over to Jerusalem’s Central Bus station at the western end of Jaffa Road and you’ll find comfortable, relatively clean buses to every part of the country. The information center is staffed by people who speak English and can help plan your itinerary. Inter-city fares are quite reasonable–Jerusalem-Tel Aviv will run around 25 NIS (about $6 for adults.)
Don’t be shy about using public transportation in Jerusalem. It’s one of the best ways of taking in the culture, scenery and the people of Israel.