Israeli Public Transport Users Can Now Pay via Phone Apps

Osnat Nir
Osnat Nir
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People board a bus in Tel Aviv, October 7, 2020.
People board a bus in Tel Aviv, October 7, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Osnat Nir
Osnat Nir

As of Tuesday, fare on public transportation across Israel can be paid via four smartphone apps – Moovit, HopOn Rav Pass, Anyway and Hatahana.

The first three are run by private companies that won a request for bids from the National Public Transport Authority a year ago, while the last one is run by the Transportation Ministry.

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The new system is going live following a pilot involving the three private companies.

Until now, passengers on Israel’s public transport paid for each ride by swiping a card, known as a Rav Kav, that was charged with money in advance.

Now, users who pay via phone app will be charged based on their actual use retroactively at the end of the month, via a credit card saved to the app. A single user can pay fares for up to eight people traveling together.

Rav Kav payment will still be accepted.

The new system will offer users the lowest rate based on their usage. Until now, travelers would have to decide among a long list of options – including monthly passes, daily passes, bus tickets or a combination of train and bus tickets. Under the newest system, users will be charged the cheapest option available for their trips. Users are advised to use only one ticketing app so that the system can optimize their trips and give them the lowest price. Switching apps is recommended only after that month’s transport fare is calculated, on the 25th of each month.

All the apps function more or less the same – the user scans a QR code inside the bus or on the screen of the bus’s Rav Kav scanning device. At this stage, users will pay based on their own reported travel distance; after they scan the code, they are responsible for reporting their end destination. At a later stage, users may be asked to scan the app again when they get off the bus or train.

At the moment, the new payment system will include only the country’s buses and the Metronit in Haifa. The national train network, the Jerusalem light rail and the Haifa light rail will start accepting payments through apps in February. Other forms of public transport, such as Bubble ride sharing vans, may also be included in the future.

Along with the introduction of the payment apps, Israel’s public transport pricing is being changed to reflect travel distance. Until now, bus fares varied in different parts of the country. Now the system will include six different fares nationwide – a base fare of 3-5.90 shekels for trips of up to 15 kilometers; 10 shekels for trips of up to 25 kilometers; 15 shekels for trips of up to 55 kilometers; 25 shekels for trips of up to 100 kilometers; 35 shekels for trips of up to 250 kilometers, and 55 shekels for anything beyond that.

The total distance will be calculated based on the radius from the user’s starting point.

The new system also caps a user’s maximum daily fare. The maximum rate is calculated based on the distance traveled. For instance, for trips of up to 15 kilometers total, the maximum rate is 13 shekels, regardless of how many trips the user made. Bus transfers within 90 minutes will be permitted nationwide for no additional charge, an option that currently exists only within four metropolises.

The app system will not make public transport use cheaper for all users. For instance, people who typically travel only within specific cities – such as in the north or south – and who don’t make many inter-city trips, may be better off continuing to pay a fixed rate per trip via Rav Kav, as opposed to based on distance traveled. The Hop On app will also enable users to pay based on the old fare structure.

The reform overcame the opposition of Transportation Minister Miri Regev and lobbying by one of the companies that lost the bidding process. Regev took office after the reform was already in the pilot stage. Regev and a few other politicians opposed the new system because they said it would infringe on users’ privacy.