Many sayings exist about focusing on the journey, not the destination – and that goes for taxi travel in Israel as well. A taxi trip can be a great way to find out what a “real Israeli” thinks about the hot-button issue of the moment, and more than one journalist, local and foreign, has been known to start a report with the opinion of the taxi driver who took them to an interview with a VIP or to a major event. Passengers can also expect to be grilled by some drivers about everything: you, your trip and your life.
Most taxi drivers speak at least passable English, especially in the big cities; basic proficiency in the language is part of the requirements for the public vehicle license all taxi drivers must have. However, taxi drivers are not allowed by law to act as driver-guides – a different level of license and service.
Now down to brass tacks: Taxi drivers are required by law to turn on the meter when your journey starts, no matter how long the trip, even between cities. The starting fee is NIS 11.80 (after 9 P.M., through the Sabbath and on holidays, there is a 25 percent surcharge, which will also appear automatically on the meter). There is also an extra fee of about NIS 4-5 if you order a taxi in advance from one of the many companies.
Some drivers are not, shall we say, overly enthusiastic about turning on the meter and may try to negotiate a flat rate, especially when it comes to trips between cities. That can benefit the driver (as there's no record of the trip), but isn't usually in the passenger's favor (unless you run into a huge traffic jam, in which case the driver will be sorry the meter’s not on). To be prepared either way, you can ask at your hotel what the approximate fare should be back to the hotel from wherever you expect to be.
Also, since we're in the land of the start-up, there's an app that can help you hail a cab as well. Get Taxi – the online taxi-ordering service and app – is available in Tel Aviv and some other cities as well. The app is free; call customer service at 03-6448299 with questions about accessing the service and availability.