On the line

How do the Arab bus companies compare to Egged?

The Arab bus system is comprised of 17 separate bus companies, each responsible for one line. Although many of the buses look the same, and all of them eventually dock at east Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station, the companies themselves remain completely independent of one another. This independence affords a certain level of flexibility, most notably in terms of prices and schedules.
Aside from the structure of the system, there are some stark differences between the Arab bus lines and their Egged counterpart in west Jerusalem. First, there is no one Web site that provides information about all of the buses, thus creating a problem for first-time riders. However, there is an information booth at the east Jerusalem Central Bus Station itself, and while it is not always manned, every driver of each separate line seems perfectly capable of pointing new passengers in the right direction.
Non-observant Jews living in the fringe neighborhoods of west Jerusalem where the Arab bus lines also run – such as parts of Talpiot, Armon Hanatziv, Arnona and French Hill – will be happy to discover that the Arab system runs every day of the week. However, the hours of operation are different than Egged, with some lines ending as early as 7 p.m.
While the price for each ride varies from company to company, fares are always cheaper than Egged. Trips on some buses run as low as NIS 2, and the standard rate from the fringe neighborhoods to the city center is NIS 4.50 – a full NIS 2 less than its competition.
Egged riders are probably very familiar with the experience of chasing after a bus and catching it just seconds after it pulls away from the stop, only to have the bus driver either wave away pleas to open the door, or simply ignore them completely. Riders on the Arab bus lines won’t have that problem, as one driver explains.
“If somebody wants to get off the bus, we stop on the side and let them off,” Jawad, the driver of the No. 81 line, says. “And the same goes for picking them up.”
The informality, however, highlights another difference between the two bus systems. While Egged bus stops are fixed and well marked, the Arab bus stops aren’t always clearly defined. Although a map of the various lines indicates where certain stops are meant to be, travelers may find that those stops lack even the most rudimentary means of identification, such as a sign on a pole.
Interestingly, Israeli Jews with access to these lines and who choose to disregard the current political climate, find that using the Arab buses can be more pleasant than Egged.
“They get me where I have to go better,” says Baka resident Shosh Silverstein. “It’s madness to take the Egged buses from Talpiot, Baka, Armon Hanatziv – there’s no bus that goes to the Old City. But the Arab lines go straight out there from Derech Hebron to Jaffa Gate.”
Yahav Zohar, who lives near the Russian Compound, agrees.
“In my view [the Arab buses] are much better than Egged – they just runalong main roads, stopping at junctions, instead of twisting aroundthrough neighborhoods,” he says. “Each line has a clear direction andgets there quickly… [which] beats the silly meanderings of Egged buses.”
The other differences are also a bonus, says Zohar.
“It’s cheaper, runs seven days a week, the seats are more comfortable and the buses run often,” he says.
How frequently depends on the line, but with a fleet of between 20 and30 buses per company, the average wait time at each stop is roughly 10minutes.