TikTak: Egged's flawed but functional shared taxi service

“When it works, it’s amazing. When it doesn’t, well…”

 APP LOGIC: The TikTak app shows that the van will arrive in one minute, but indicates it would take seven minutes to get to the bus stop. Simply not enough time.  (photo credit: TikTak)
APP LOGIC: The TikTak app shows that the van will arrive in one minute, but indicates it would take seven minutes to get to the bus stop. Simply not enough time.
(photo credit: TikTak)

We were anxious. How would we get from southern Jerusalem to Shaare Zedek Medical Center for my husband’s routine medical procedure?

It was June 2021, and a good portion of the hospital’s parking lot had just collapsed into a giant sinkhole the week before, so taking our car was out of the question. We wanted to save money on a taxi, since we had to be at the hospital at the height of rush hour traffic and the cost would have been astronomic. We didn’t want to take a bus – or several buses, for that matter – as we were concerned about corona.

Our friend Avital, sitting with us at a Shabbat dinner, piped up: “Why not order a TikTak?” – Egged’s shared taxi service (not to be confused with TikTok, the social network by a similar name). “When it works, it’s amazing. When it doesn’t, well…” she said, noting that she uses it several times a week to get to the far reaches of the city.

I was soon to understand the true import of her words.

With Avital’s help, by Saturday night, I had downloaded the app onto my phone, learned the ins and outs on how to order a van and was ready the next day to reserve two spots. I punched in Shaare Zedek as my destination as well as my current location. Easy peasy, and voila! – a van was on its way to us.

Egged's TikTak shared shuttle service (credit: TOMER FEDER)Egged's TikTak shared shuttle service (credit: TOMER FEDER)

The app showed which nearby bus stop to wait at and how long it would take for our TikTak to arrive. Hubby and I were delighted to get on board one of the ubiquitous green vans that we had seen zipping around Jerusalem. (The service only picks passengers up and drops them off at bus stops. Did you know that each bus stop has a number? Just look at the sign the next time you are waiting for a bus.) 

But instead of heading in the direction of the hospital, the van eventually made a turn in the opposite direction, onto Agrippas Street. Soon we were in the thick of Mahaneh Yehuda. “Where’s he going?” my husband said in his contained, yet clearly annoyed voice. “This is what you call a good transportation alternative?” 

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “It will drop off this other passenger and will zip around and bring us to the hospital in no time.” Of course I was right.

Since this maiden voyage, I have lost count how many times I have ordered a TikTak to get around town. The service has been a lifesaver, especially during the Delta and Omicron COVID surges, with my aversion to taking mass transit. 

The vans, which hold up to 10 people, have seats that are spaced out, and the vehicles are rarely full. Usually, my fellow TikTak passengers are older folk, and during the COVID peaks there were no arguments or confrontations about wearing a mask. Everyone taking a TikTak (generally) plays by the rules.

IF YOU’RE planning on becoming a “TikTak-er,” be prepared to be flexible. Often, the time of arrival can change, so keep checking the app to make sure you don’t miss your ride once you’ve ordered it. Since your designated van is synchronized with the traffic conditions, arrival times are often an approximation. 

For instance, once the app indicated that I had 10 minutes to get to the designated bus stop (note again that all pickups and drop-offs are at bus stops). Plenty of time, so I thought, and I set out from my house at a leisurely pace. 

Then I looked at the app again not a minute later, and it indicated that the van would be arriving in four minutes. WHAT?? I high-tailed it to the bus stop, completely out of breath as the van pulled up. It was an unexpected cardio workout for the day.

Would the driver have waited for me, I wondered, if I had been a few minutes late? I learned that it depends on who is behind the wheel, as well as the patience of the other passengers in the van. Once, someone was late, and the driver pulled away after half a minute. 

Another time, the driver waited patiently, but had to contend with several grouchy passengers who were insisting that he take off without the passenger. Fortunately, the gal arrived after a five-minute wait.

Another time, the app said that my TikTak was coming in 25 minutes. No problem, I thought. I’ll just pop into the nearby mini-market in the meantime and pick up some groceries. But the app’s timer didn’t move for the next hour. The van had gotten stuck in traffic. 

The app itself has its imperfections. It will show that a van is available and will be at the bus stop in one minute, while at the same time indicating that it would take me seven minutes to walk to that very bus stop. Not very logical. (Egged app designer – take note!) 

I’ve learned the hard way not to pre-order a ride for a specific day and time. There’s no guarantee that the van will pick you up when you want it to. It’s best to start entering your destination about 20 minutes in advance of when you actually want to leave. Also, keep in mind that TikTak only operates Sundays through Thursdays.

On one TikTak ride, I had an unexpected scenic excursion through Mea She’arim, due to various road closures. A trip that should have taken 30 minutes ended up taking an hour and a half. The driver was extremely apologetic, but I didn’t mind since I was in no hurry. However, I felt every bump; clearly, that van’s shock absorbers needed to be replaced (ditto for several other TikTak vans), as the vehicle made its way along the narrow streets. It was the real-life version of a hard-bounce.

After I arrive at my destination, an invoice appears in my email account, indicating the cost for the ride. But lately, Egged has been sending me invoices several times for the same ride. It’s rather annoying, as I now will have to spend time sorting this out with the company.

I am beginning to understand first-hand what Avital meant. “When it works, it’s amazing. But when it doesn’t work…”

A TIKTAK ride is also a cultural experience. Drivers range from ultra-Orthodox, who give passengers a taste of the latest hassidic tunes, to Arabs who turn the radio onto the current Middle Eastern musical offerings. Some drivers will engage with you and offer an interpretation of the news; others will complain about the frustrating traffic conditions in the city. Most just leave you alone and concentrate on the road. 

In the evenings, I often have the van all to myself. I love that the trip is cost-effective. A taxi ride that would have been at least NIS 70 instead costs about NIS 7.50 (prices vary somewhat according to the time of day, and your age).

I settle into my seat, and start figuring out the day’s Wordle, or catch up with friends while I charge my phone from the outlet on the van. There’s no one hovering over me, no one sitting a hair’s breadth next to me, and I lull myself into believing I am in a corona-safe environment. 

Yes, with all its imperfections, TikTak is still my inner-city transport-of-choice. ❖