The Jerusalem Central Bus Station is the main bus depot in Jerusalem, Israel and one of the busiest bus stations in the country. Located on Jaffa Road near the entrance to the city, it serves Egged, Superbus and Dan intercity bus routes. City buses pick up and discharge passengers across the street on Jaffa Road and on Zalman Shazar Boulevard, which can be accessed via an underground pedestrian passageway.
The Central Bus Station opened in September 2001 on the site of the old Jerusalem Bus Station, built in the 1960s. The old station was a long, single-story building with an open-air bus depot behind it. Passengers embarked and disembarked at curbside on an outdoor platform. In the 1950s, the main bus station was located in the heart of downtown Jerusalem, behind the Pillar Building ("Binyan Ha'amudim") on Jaffa Road.
Jerusalem's new bus station was commissioned in order to accommodate the increasing flow of bus traffic as well as to implement security protocols for screening incoming and outgoing passengers. During construction of the new bus station, operations were moved to a large, two-level parking lot several blocks east on Jaffa Road.
The new Central Bus Station has two levels of underground parking, three main levels, and five upper floors of office space. The first main level is a shopping concourse and food court. The second main level serves as both a shopping concourse and the arrivals hall for incoming intercity bus passengers. Since the building is constructed on the side of a hill, the first and second main levels both have a ground-level entrance/exit to Jaffa Road. Besides retail stores, the concourse includes bakery outlets, a video game parlor, and free-standing gift sellers.
The third main level serves as the departures hall, with 22 bus platforms. Passengers wait at numbered doors for the bus to pull into its slot in the indoor parking lot, then go through the door into the parking lot to board. Large digital display boards post upcoming departure times.
While most platforms accommodate more than one bus route, popular routes, such as Jerusalem-Tel Aviv, have their own designated platform and run more frequently.
Passengers and their baggage are screened by security personnel every time they enter the Central Bus Station building. That is, departing passengers must go through security clearance when they enter the building from Jaffa Road and may then board buses without additional security checks. Riders returning to Jerusalem are dropped off in the garage on the other side of the building. They may choose to exit out to the street—in which case they do not need to pass through security—or to go into the bus station building—in which case they must go through a security check. People wishing to visit only the shopping concourses must also clear security. As is the case for most commercial security checkpoints in Israel, gun owners are exempt from security searches, it being presumed that anyone who has been vetted by the government to carry a loaded firearm in public has no criminal or terrorist intentions. In addition to building security, Egged has its own team of uniformed security personnel patrolling the indoor bus parking lots.
The decision to include a shopping mall within the bus station was criticized by the Haredi community. After Haredi activists petitioned the Ministry of Transportation to allow Egged to open a departure point for buses traveling to Haredi destinations that would board outside the Central Bus Station, Egged opened a special platform where passengers boarding its Route 400 to Bnei Brak sit in relative privacy. In addition, the bus company agreed to launch a "mehadrin "Route 402 between Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. This route departs from Egged's city bus terminus at Har Hotzvim in northern Jerusalem, accommodating Haredi riders who wish to avoid the Central Bus Station altogether. The Har Hotzvim terminus has expanded to include "mehadrin"bus departures to other Haredi destinations such as Safed, Ashdod, Haifa, Arad, Kiryat Ata and more. In a ruling of January 2011, the Israeli High Court of Justice stated the unlawfulness of gender segregation and abolished the “mehadrin” public buses. However, the court rule allowed the continuation of the gender segregation in public buses on a voluntary basis for a one-year experimental period.
A second bone of contention was the opening of a McDonald's franchise in the food court. Most McDonald's restaurants, including the one in the Jerusalem city center, do not have kashrut certification from the rabbinate. Although this McDonald's franchise was in the process of applying for a kashrut certificate, and even completed its construction accordingly, the rabbinate conditioned its certification on McDonald's making its other outlets in the city kosher. When McDonald's decided to open a kosher branch but without a certificate, Haredi activists threatened a boycott. The Natzba real-estate firm which owns the bus station canceled McDonald's contract. McDonald's took it to court and won; Natzba was forced to pay it 100,000 shekels in trial expenses. McDonald's opened its franchise in the Central Bus Station, following halachic obligations, but without rabbinical supervision. The Haredi boycott never materialized. In January 2010, McDonalds reopened with a kosher certificate from the Jerusalem rabbinate, after the company agreed to make changes to satisfy the rabbis. The signs are blue, instead of the traditional red, with "kosher"written in English and Hebrew in big letters. The disposable cartons, bags, wraps, and place mats, are also blue and bear no golden arches, and the staff wears special uniforms.