Tourist Tip #175 / Public Transportation Lanes

The best way to experience Israel is to drive around on your own. But watch out for yellow-marked lanes that are for buses and taxis only.

Although Israeli drivers can be aggressive, traffic is heavy and parking is at a premium in urban areas, there is no better way to experience Israel than driving around on your own. Like Americans, Israelis drive on the right side of the road, despite having been ruled by the British for a spell. Conveniently, Israel uses international road signs - but one road marking that may not be obvious to the foreign tourist is the yellow arrow on the street denoting a public transportation lane.

Fairly common in the country's largest cities, yellow arrows in the middle of a lane of travel mean that the lane is reserved for buses and taxis. In some places, it's marked by a thick red stripe the length of the lane.

Sometimes there are signs posted stating the hours during which the rule is in force. And some signs note that the lane can also be used by high-occupancy vehicles - cars with a minimum number of occupants (usually four). But if you don't see a sign, or if you don't read Hebrew, as many of the details are only posted in Hebrew, the best bet would be not to enter a lane with a yellow arrow.

It bears noting that after midnight and until the wee hours of the morning, regular vehicles can use the public-transport lanes without penalty. However, there's no general rule what constitutes "early morning". Some public-transport lanes are available for general use from midnight to 10 AM, some only until 6 AM and so on. As said, there will be street signs on the corners stating – only in Hebrew – what hours regular cars and motorcycles can use the lanes.

The same is true on Shabbat and holidays: when public transportation stops, the lanes become open to all. But watch out for the relevant hour.

On a personal note, before I moved to Israel, on a visit here as a tourist, I got stopped by a policeman for heedlessly driving my rental car in a public transportation lane. At first, I had no idea why he stopped me. I was in the middle of traffic, with a bus in front of me and a taxi behind me. "What's the problem, officer?" I asked. He was very nice about it and didn't ticket me when he saw I was a foreign tourist. But what if your policeman is having a bad day?

David Bachar