[Updated Sept. 18, 2019]
Before coming to Israel I was trying to find out DID Israel have Uber, and every website I saw said they did not. Even locals I spoke to told me “Uber doesn’t work in Israel.” This is in fact WRONG… It does … at least for as much as you the customer actually care… You open your app, you call for a ride, you get one… it’s just going to be from an actual licensed taxi with a yellow taxi thing on its hood… but you get your ride and pay via the app, and let’s face it that’s all we as the customer actually care about.
That said, you ARE going to want to use Uber. When I grabbed a cab at the airport without Uber, the girl who talked to me when I got into the cab at the designated cab stand, officiously informed me that my cab would only cost 110 shekels because the cab could only charge me based on the distance (not the time) and because of the location I was going to that was the charge. She handed me a print out with a website to reach for feedback (but no mention of the set charge), and she promised me he would take my credit card. When I got there he said his WiFi didn’t work, so he couldn’t charge the card… and when I asked how much, he said that because of how backed up the highway had been, and how long it took to get here, the fee was 145 shekels. I was too tired at the time to make a stink — because Israeli’s LOVE to argue …. So I just paid the extra and let it go… but knew I’d just been ripped off.
[that and I was once punched in the face by a shoe repair man, in Israel, because I had refused to pay as he’d totally botched up the job — SERIOUSLY, not making this up, and I now know better than to NOT expect a potential for violence when in Israel … I’ve seen more than a few minor fender benders turn violent over the years — keep in mind a good chunk of the population has PTSD.]
[update: the next time I took a cab from the airport from the same taxi stand, this time the driver was a woman. She asked me if I had GETT installed on my phone (see below), an app designed for Taxi cab companies rather than “sharing economy” drivers, and as such has apparently has an neat little feature that if you’re already in the cab that you hailed off the street you can pull all the cabs adjacent to you as you’re moving along (you see their faces and names) and then pick the cab you’re in and use the app to pay them. She then asked me, “how much did the woman at the airport say the ride was going to be?” and she input into my app that amount. So it’s a case by case based on how honest the cab driver is.]
So yes, you’re going to want to use Uber if for no other reason than the cab drivers get paid via the app, and this gives them no opportunity to pull that kind of con on travelers.
Oh, and in Israel cab drivers are NOT generally tipped, although waiters in restaurants and bars still are. Cab drivers don’t expect it, and the app isn’t set up to do it. I do NOT however know if they’ll give you bad feedback if you don’t, which is what was happening in the USA which is why Uber added after the fact tipping.
In Israel it’s not Uber so much as the Uber business model of the gig economy that’s illegal; i.e., individuals using their own cars to drive as taxi’s. If you think about it that’s probably a good thing as Israel is a country in a state of war and terrorism is most definitely a thing. You’ve all heard the stories of the folks faking being Uber drivers in order to rape or steal from people, well in Israel using Uber to kidnap and kill could easily become part of the terror campaign, so I understand why the Israeli government wouldn’t allow it.
That said, you can STILL use your Uber app to get a ride. Apparently, Uber has teamed up with licensed cab drivers and given them access to their software. When you call an Uber what arrives has a formal yellow “Taxi” thing attached to their roof. I think what’s happened is all the small independent companies and/or drivers, who can’t afford to have the sort of software/app/etc that Uber has are the ones who have teamed up with Uber. Israel has in fact a LONG history of this sort of small businessman… before it was nationalized all busses in Israel were privately owned and operated by their drivers, even though they were on organized routes. (My mom had more than few friends who were doing this for a living back when I was like 4 years old).
For those who who have an issue with Uber, GETT (mentioned above) is a different app that also will get you a cab. It was the first taxi hailing application in Israel and most cab drivers use it.
That said… as a result of traveling back and forth to Israel, and swiping out sim cards to local carriers, experiencing app updates, etc., I’ve discovered that Uber has no issue with all of that… but GETT will forget all your information on a semi regular basis so when you go to hail a cab you find yourself having to RE-install all the credit card information over and over again because of either swiping out the sim or updates in the app. And when you’re in a hurry and wanting a cab, you do NOT want have to sit down, pull out your credit cards, re-enter all your info, and THEN be finally able to call a cab….