‘Getting around major Israeli cities is challenging – even for seasoned travellers. This is a quick guide on how to use Rav-Kav cards in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem…’
Israel’s three major cities use pre-loaded public transport vouchers, known as Rav-Kav cards. The cards can be used on buses, trains and light rail around Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. Charges differ slightly, depending on which city you’re in (for example, transport is cheaper in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv), but it all operates the same way.
Where can I buy Rav-Kav cards?
You can buy Rav-Kav cards at any major transit point. This includes main bus and railway stations, as well as Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. As most visitors arrive via this entry point, it’s a good idea to grab a card before you hit the road. Cards are 5 NIS (New Israeli Shekel) to buy and you must load them with a minimum of 30 NIS.
How can I top up my card?
Rav-Kav cards can be topped up at any unmanned kiosk. These are found at various bus stops and train stations. Simply swipe your card, feed the machine some money and you’re good to go. All kiosks have English language options in addition to Hebrew. Super Pharm, Good Pharm and various other convenience stores are also authorised to top up Rav-Kav, so if you have questions, this is your easiest option as you can chat to an actual human. Hebrew speakers can top up online with the Rav-Kav app. English speakers can download the Hop On app from Play store or Apple and top up using credit cards.
For online top ups, you need data to allow you to scan the app when you get on the bus. Without active data, the transaction will not process and you won’t be allowed to ride. Drivers are no longer permitted to accept cash, as of January 2019. Rav-Kav cards are the only method of payment allowed on public transport.
Where can I use the cards?
Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem operate public transport with Rav-Kav cards. I bought cards at Tel Aviv bus terminal and we use them to travel to Haifa and Jerusalem. Two main companies serve the bus routes. These are Egged, in Haifa, and Dan, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Rav-Kav cards are accepted by both.
Buses times and schedules can be hard to predict. Even when you think you’ve got it sussed with an app, or with Google, it’s not quite that simple. We used a combination of Google and Moovit and found that sometimes they were quite accurate. Other times, they were absolutely useless. However, bus stops often have electronic boards, so they will inform you when the next bus is due. However, whether it actually takes you where the schedule says it will is another matter entirely. All bus timetables and route maps at bus stops are in Hebrew only.
It’s worth keeping an electronic map on your phone because you may end up lost in the middle of nowhere. I speak from bitter experience. We hopped a bus to Stella Maris monastery and ended up…well, I’m still not sure, to be honest. It took us the best part of an hour to walk out of a maze of Haifa residential streets before finally being able to navigate to the monastery on our own. It can be a very frustrating experience.
Trains stick to schedule more than buses. They’re quick, efficient, and comfortable. If you don’t like standing in crowded carriages, skip the rush hour service. Trains are extremely busy at peak times and it’s common for passengers to board with bikes and scooters. A few tourists board our train from Tel Aviv to Haifa with surf boards. And it’s not easy to wedge those into crowded passageways.
Israeli passengers are very sweet at ensuring older and infirm commuters have a seat. We witnessed numerous instances where people are waved over and offered places to sit by other passengers. Also, on another note about trains, if you’re from a nation without heavy security, don’t be alarmed by the Israeli guards. They will board your transport armed with huge automatic weapons and it’s a shock at first. After a few days, you’ll hardly notice.
Do you use Rav-Kav cards to travel around Israel? Do you have any more tips for travellers?