This and That

Random bits of my life

How to Buy Tickets for the Jerusalem Light Rail

Posted by Avital Pinnick on December 23, 2011


Dec. 31 update. Very soon the downtown bus routes will be phased out. That means you will only be able to use the Light Rail to get through downtown Jerusalem. My husband, whose hobby is public transportation, says he doesn’t know of any transport system in the world that does this. Normally light rail routes supplement existing bus routes; they don’t replace them. If a bus breaks down, it can be towed away and the passengers can be picked up by another bus. If there is a terrorist attack and the area is blocked off by police, buses can take alternate routes. But if a train breaks down, it can’t be overtaken by another train. What is the Light Rail going to do? Hand out pedestrian maps to stranded passengers? 

Language support: The Citypass site has only Hebrew pages. Clicking the Arabic link gets you a 2-page PDF (which clearly does not have all the information in the Hebrew version). Clicking English gets you … nothing. The link is inactive.

Interface oddity: Cate (comments below) pointed out that red light/green light interface for the Rav Kav card is reversed. When you insert a valid card into a card reader on an Egged bus, it flashes green. When you use a valid card on the Light Rail, it flashes red. (I haven’t checked this out myself).

Dec. 26 update. As promised, I am updating this post based on comments. Updates appear in orange.

As of December 1, 2011, the Jerusalem Light Rail is no longer free. I bought tickets a couple nights ago (in the dark, with a couple impatient people waiting in line behind me) and it was a frustrating, confusing experience. I did everything wrong. On the train, I was set straight by a couple ticket inspectors who discovered that I hadn’t loaded the rides properly on my card. When I got off the train, I went through the same process again and took a photo of the machine. Now I’m writing the manual for the machine, because the instructions provided are in Hebrew, rather verbose, and impossible to read in the dark…  🙂

Important note: The ride codes for Egged buses and the Light Rail changed on December 1. If you have  rides from before Dec. 1 on your Rav Kav card (code 2 for Jerusalem, code 3 for Maale Adumim/Jerusalem), you cannot use them for the Light Rail (this includes transferring, i.e., cartis ma’avar). You have to buy new rides (code 62) from the Egged bus driver or from the machines at the Light Rail stations. The price is 6.40 NIS per ride, regardless of whether you are riding on a bus or train. If you have both old and new rides on your card and you want to transfer between buses but not the Light Rail, tell the driver to use the old code 2 or code 3 rides (only for Egged buses), so that he doesn’t use the new code 62 rides (for buses and the Light Rail).

Don’t try boarding the Light Rail if you haven’t bought new tickets. The ticket inspectors are checking diligently and you are likely to be fined if you have not purchased a code 62 ride.

Buying Tickets from the Machine

You can pay for tickets with cash (exact change) or credit card. (Note: Mark says the machines do give change, so perhaps I got a machine that had run out of change.)
Tickets can be purchased as cardboard one-ride tickets (useful if you’re not a frequent rider or you’ve got a family with you) or loaded onto your Rav Kav card.

The machine is not a touch-screen. There are four buttons on the left side and four on the right, and it’s not always clear which buttons belong to which commands. There is a Cancel button under the screen (lower left corner of photo). You can choose an English, Hebrew, or Arabic interface (lower left button) but at some point the interface seems to revert to Hebrew. I haven’t used the machines enough times to confirm this.

There are two slots, one for the Rav Kav card and one for the credit card. Do not confuse them because they are the same size and there is no warning if you insert your Rav Kav in the wrong slot.

1. If you are loading rides on a Rav Kav card, insert the card in the slot on the right side of the screen (middle of photo above, below a little picture of the Rav Kav). The card slips into an external holder; it doesn’t slide into the machine. Press one of the two upper right buttons.

If you are not loading a Rav Kav card, press one of the two lower right buttons.

2. A notice appears telling you that a single ride is 6.40. This can be confusing if you want to purchase multiple rides. It’s not a selection option — it’s telling you the price of the ride. Press the upper left button beside the notice to continue. Rav Kav cards are personalized (anonymous Rav Kav cards have just been introduced). Miri says that if you are entitled to a discount (for example, senior citizen, child), those prices will show up when you purchase tickets.

3. Several ride options appear (1 ride, 3 rides, 5, 10, etc.– I’m relying on my memory). You get a discount if you buy a package of ten rides but only for Rav Kav. If you buy single-ride tickets, remember that they are good only for that day. So use them if you’re traveling with your family, etc. Press the button for the number of rides you want to purchase.

4. If you are paying with cash, insert the coins (exact change) in the slot to the right of the credit card slot (not visible in this photo). A counter will appear on the screen telling you how much you’ve paid and when you’ve reached the total.

If you inserted a Rav Kav card in step 1, the screen will tell you that the rides have been loaded on your card. If you did not insert a Rav Kav card, the cardboard tickets and a receipt will drop into a window below and you can collect them.

5. If you are paying with a credit card, insert it with the magnetic stripe facing down, and on the left side, in the slot (upper right area of photo). You will receive a receipt. The screen will tell you when you can remove your credit card and Rav Kav card.

Paying on the Light Rail

This is also not simple! Sorry, I don’t have a photo of the card reader/stamper but it’s the thing mounted on a pole near the door when you get on the train.

1. If you are using a Rav Kav, touch the Rav Kav against the front panel of the machine (there is a stylized drawing of a Rav Kav on the panel). Don’t try to insert your Rav Kav card into the slot on top because it won’t fit and you will feel very foolish…. If a ticket inspector appears, he will check your card with a portable card-reader to make sure that you paid. If you need to transfer to a bus, insert the card into the bus’s card-reader as usual.

2. If you are using a single-ride ticket, insert it into the slot on top (in the center of a big yellow circle). The machine will stamp it with the date and time. Keep the ticket because a ticket inspector might ask to see it. If you are transferring to a bus, show it to the driver. You can transfer within 90 minutes of the time stamped on the ticket.

Good luck and nesi’ah tovah!!! If you notice that I’ve made an error, please let me know and I’ll update this posting.

Hanukkah sameach to everyone.


11 Responses to “How to Buy Tickets for the Jerusalem Light Rail”

  1. Mark said

    Exact change is not needed as the machine gives change.

    • Avital Pinnick said

      That may depend on whether the machine has change. When I bought tickets, the machine insisted on exact change and returned coins that were too large. My experience was different from yours. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Sharon said

    It doesn’t tell you when to remove your credit card. The instructions tell you to insert and then remove your card. I left my card in by accident and the entire transaction was aborted.

    • Avital Pinnick said

      Interesting! You mean the instructions posted on the front tell you to remove it but the screen doesn’t? I hope you got your card back.

  3. miri ofri said

    If you are a vatik and want to buy just one ticket you need to put your rav kav into the machine and then the 3.20 option will also show up

    • Avital Pinnick said

      Just a note to translate — Miri is referring to the discount for seniors. Because the Rav Kav cards are personalized and include discounts for children, soldiers, and seniors, the ticket machine will offer you that option as well, if your Rav Kav card is entitled. Thanks, Miri!

  4. Cate said

    I’m so confused about this new system and haven’t found any of the bus drivers or light rail agents to be very friendly or willing to instruct (they are just too busy).

    My questions are these:

    1. How can I be sure with the Rav card that I can transfer from the light rail to a city bus (and the reverse) without paying twice?

    2. Can I use my card to pay the fare for friends and insure that we can all transfer?

    One thing that seems important (and an expensive learning curve for me), is that on the bus when you have properly inserted the card, a green light comes on. Red light means that the card was improperly inserted. On the light rail, a red light means that the card was used correctly (GOOD JOB, GUYS!)

    All and all I give the whole system a resounding negative review. Why couldn’t they do what so many other light rail systems around the world have done, and make a pay turnstile outside of the train (like in Istanbul), instead of forcing everyone to pile up at the doors inside the train? Why no instructions in English, which most tourist can understand a little. the whole system is a nightmare for someone who can’t understand Hebrew or Arabic. Why can’t they hire people to answer questions, as they have done at the light rail at JFK Airport and in every city metro station I know of? The whole thing is so poorly thought out.

    • Avital Pinnick said

      Hi, Cate, Thanks for your comments! You raise a lot of interesting points.

      1. Paying vs. transfer. If your Rav Kav card was used within the last 90 minutes and you paid with a code 62 ride (automatic on the Light Rail but you will have to tell a bus driver if your card contains old code 2 or 3 and new code 62 rides), the transfer happens automatically. Of course, you can’t actually see the card reader, so the only way that the system tells you (it seems) is that you DON’T get a receipt if you’re transferring. You only get a receipt if you’re paying. It’s a good idea to keep the receipt from the first transaction so that at least you have a record of paying at a certain time.

      2. Although there are plans to bring in a non-personalized Rav Kav card, at the moment it seems that the cards are personalized (so that you get a student or senior’s discount if you’re entitled), so you may NOT use them for friends. You can buy a number of individual cards from a Light Rail ticket machine with cash or credit card. You can also buy individual rides from a bus driver with cash. These can be used for your friends and they can transfer with no problem.

      I hadn’t noticed the red/green light paradox. I’m not surprised — Citypass and Egged are two separate companies, so they’re not obliged to adopt the same interface. Still, you’d think someone would have thought of that in any case!

      My guess as to why no pay turnstile outside is that it would have required a much more expensive infrastructure: gates, barriers, policing those areas, etc. Support for English is pretty much sparse. I haven’t noticed much other than the trilingual recording announcing the stations. They did have people explaining the system in the early stages but that seems to have ended. It would have been nice if they’d at least put up a reasonable site to explain the procedures. At the moment the site ( has instructions in Hebrew on the Web. Clicking the Arabic link gets you a 2-page PDF file. Clicking the English link gets you … nothing. The link is dead. Just when you think things can’t get any worse (years living with a downtown that looks like a war zone and stores going out of business), you get this! I hope it gets better. I really do!

      Hey, Citypass and Egged, when is someone going to address these issues?

  5. Arggh. Well, it sounded like a good idea, so my son (after being here only 3 days) decided to buy 10 tickets so he could get the discount. The machine spit out only 8 tickets, and they were all for the same day. So now he has 7 tickets that he can’t use and no discount. What did he do wrong? Does the discount option only work with a Rav Kav?

    • Avital Pinnick said

      I found out the hard way that the discount bundle is only for the Rav Kav. Suggest he stand on the platform at rush hour and simply sell them. Believe me, if there’s a line at the machine, people will be very happy to buy them. I’ll update the posting so no one else is misled. Sorry about your son’s experience! When I wrote this I didn’t know that the tickets were only good for one day.

      • Thanks, Avital. The tickets were only good for last Sunday, so nobody would buy them. I emailed Citipass asking if they would buy them back.

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