The Serial Tourist's Guide to Jerusalem

December, 2006 - Copyright by Morris Rosenthal - - contact info

The Serial Tourist's Guide to Jerusalem

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Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal

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Jerusalem Transportation - Buses and Taxis

The beating heart of the Jerusalem transportation infrastructure is the Egged bus system. The bus system is somewhat more complex than the circulation system of the human body, or at least it seems that way at times. The key to the bus system is a number of long routes that bisect the city center, and run at close intervals. Jerusalem City maps, included the ones handed out for free at the central bus station, include all of the Egged routes, and the question is never whether or not there is a bus stop nearby, it's just how "good" a bus it is. A good bus runs almost continually at rush hour, and rarely leaves you waiting more than fifteen minutes. A bad bus runs only at irregular intervals on certain days. The current cost of a bus is a little over a buck, with a steep discounts for a multiple trip passes.

Despite the excellence of the bus system, it doesn't deliver you from point-to-point and can't change its routes (too much) in order to avoid traffic jams. To get somewhere in a hurry, or to arrive at an address you haven't bothered looking for on the map, you can always take a taxi. The "always" here includes on Shabbat, when the buses are resting. Taxis are surprisingly inexpensive, and all are equipped with meters. Last time I checked, the meters start running at a little less than $2 (the cost to get in a cab), and you can go almost anywhere in the city for less than $5. The trick is getting the drivers to start the meter, something that is required by law, but openly flaunted. Most drivers will offer a round number fare as soon as you get in the cab, and it may sound cheap, since it will almost always be under $5. The problem is two-fold. First, the on meter fare will almost certainly be cheaper. Secondly, since it's illegal, and I don't like encouraging the practice. However, some of the drivers are jerks and will argue about turning on the meter as they drive, then try to plead that you've already come so far that they'll lose by starting it now. The best way to avoid the whole hassle is ask if the driver has started the meter as soon as you get started, "He'dlaktah?" (pronounced He'd Lock Tah). If you get a song and a dance, say firmly, "Tod'leek" (pronounced like the name "Tod" run together with "leek"). Don't show any signs of weakness or they'll eat you alive. I recently made a video about budgeting the publishing process which starts out with a Jerusalem taxi story in which I had a run-in with a real old-fashioned taxi crook.

Aside from buses and taxis, you can walk from anywhere to anywhere in central Jerusalem in less than an hour, and if you really like your exercise, you can get from the center to anywhere but the extreme northern reaches of the city in about an hour and a half. Neither of these figures allow for time wasted in getting lost, an all too frequent occurrence on any new route. If you spend any time wandering about Jerusalem, you'll quickly notice that several people a day ask you for instructions, most of them Israelis, and more than half of them engaged in driving at the same time. The city has maps posted (in Hebrew) at busy walking intersections all over town, and in not a few remote locations as well. Since the majority of the city is built on hills, and the roads tend to go around the hills rather than descending at steep grades, you can save a tremendous amount of walking time by being aware of public paths and stairways. These offer direct routes up and down the hills at strategic locations, and some are shown on maps. Others you'll find by trial and error, though not all are marked, and I've often tried what I thought would be a neat shortcut, only to have it dead end at some apartment building. The drawback to walking in Jerusalem is the vehicles, both parked on sidewalks (forcing you into the street) and aggressively driven on the roads. Walk defensively, and never assume you have the right of way as a pedestrian. Israeli drivers run down walkers at an alarming rate, and there has been a recent rash of ambulance drivers killing children!

I've driven in Jerusalem a grand total of one time, and hated it. Driving in Israel isn't much fun in general, since yielding the right of way is unheard of and many drivers, both men and women, see merging as a contest of wills. Not surprisingly, over 600 died in automobile accidents in 2001, an incredible number for the small population, many of whom don't even have cars. The majority of streets in Jerusalem are one way, which makes driving from point to point a bit complicated, even if you know exactly where you're going. Parking is also a nightmare unless you own a spot at your building. Street parking is generally legal where the curb isn't painted with alternating red and white stripes, but most central neighborhoods are equipped with solar powered parking ticket machines that you must buy time from and attach the slip to your driver side window. People park illegally as a matter of course, and the city seems unable to cope with the problem.

If you feel you have to leave Jerusalem, the best way out of town is through the central bus station. If you've been to the central bus station in Tel Aviv, this probably elicited a groan from you, since that bus station is a disaster. Don't despair, because the Jerusalem central bus station is a work of art. The bus routes to all of the major destinations are located on a single floor, with well labeled platforms and a large digital schedule display with departure times and destinations. The best bus route in the country is the 480, which runs between the central bus station in Jerusalem and the Arlozorov bus terminal / train station in Tel Aviv, more or less continually. The train is the nicest way to travel in Israel, and unlike the buses, includes bathrooms. New train routes run into downtown Tel Aviv and up to Rosh HaAyin, by way of the Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan Universities. The revitalized Southern route travels to Ber Sheva by way of Kiryat Gat. Even the Tel Aviv Jerusalem route will be restarted, someday, maybe. It offers scenic views, but takes at least an hour more than the 480 bus, even during traffic jams. The primary route on the train is the North-South link from Tel Aviv to Nahariya, including Haifa and many coastal towns. You have to read the schedule carefully before getting on a train, because all though the route doesn't vary, the stops do, and not all trains run from end to end.

This guide is in progress, and I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.

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