Tourist Tip #102 / How to Grab a Cab

Taxis are a reliable way to get around quickly in Israel, but it helps to know their formal and informal rules beforehand.

You might think taxicabs are pretty much the same everywhere, and they are. But the etiquette of riding a cab, and the ways the driver might try to rip you off, are different in Israel.

Taxis officially regulated by the Israel Transportation Ministry are easy to spot. Although they come in various makes and models, they’re all painted white with “taxi” ("monit") on their sides and on the yellow light-up roof-signs.

Unlike in other countries where a lit sign indicates availability, these signs are always illuminated except for a little green light on the base, which should be off when passengers are on board. You’re probably better off ignoring the lights altogether, though, and just trying to wave down every taxi you see.

To this end, you can employ any attention-grabbing gesture you want – within reason. If you want to be Israeli about it, point to a spot on the street about five feet away from you.

In major cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, taxis are available almost any time and anywhere. If for some reason you find yourself stranded or want to arrange transportation in advance, there are dozens of taxi companies you can call for service. In smaller towns and suburbs, companies are used more routinely.

If you’re travelling alone, you have to make a decision even before boarding your cab: Front or back? In Israel, it’s not rare for travelers to sit up front and chat with the driver. But the taxis aren’t partitioned, so you’ll get a chance to practice your Hebrew either way.

As soon as you get in, you’ll need to choose whether or not to run the meter. You or the driver may suggest a flat fare. As long as he issues a receipt at the end of the journey, that's fine, but otherwise he's dodging income tax, which is a felony.

For inter-city rides, taxi companies charge specific fares. If you’re taking a taxi between cities, ask the driver to tell you the official rate. He’ll punch a code into the meter and print out a slip of paper that shows, in English, the cities you’re traveling between and how much the Transportation Ministry thinks you should pay. You can try to negotiate this number down a little.

Assuming you go with the meter, the base rate is always NIS 11.80. The meter then runs at two different speeds: one on weekdays and another, 25 percent faster, on weeknights (Sunday to Thursday, 9:01 P.M. to 5:59 A.M.), Shabbat and national holidays (starting on Friday or the day before the holiday at 5:00 P.M. and ending on Saturday or the last day of the holiday at 5:29 P.M.).

You’ll pay an extra NIS 4.20 for every piece of luggage you’re carrying and NIS 4.70 if you’re traveling with more than one other person. Typically you can fit four people in a taxi, plus up to two children under the age of 5. If you want to take Highway 6 to avoid traffic, you’ll be responsible for the NIS 16.10 in tolls. It costs NIS 90.80 per hour to keep a taxi idling.

While your driver is unlikely to forget any fees, you may need to remind him of the rules against smoking, blaring the radio or stopping to pick up other passengers while you’re on board. If your trip is unpleasant enough that complaining to your friends doesn’t seem sufficient, you can report your driver to the nearest Transportation Ministry Office. Just make sure you have the taxi’s registration number, the driver’s name (or at least a description of him), the date and time of the event and the names of any witnesses. Most of this information will be on your receipt.

And by the way, you don't need to tip the driver. That isn't the norm in Israel.

Ofer Vaknin