Someday, I might hail a flying Uber car or climb aboard the Hyperloop for transportation from San Francisco to Los Angeles. In the meantime, a sleepaway bus offers a good alternative.
Founded in 2016, Cabin (formerly known as SleepBus) recently launched a chartered bus service between SF and LA that allows passengers to fall asleep in one city and wake up in the next — for about $US100 one-way. The logistics are a no-brainer: Get in, grab a bunk, and snooze.
The flat rate makes it more affordable than flying and potentially more convenient than driving, but only if you can handle the tight quarters and 23 passengers aboard the double-decker bus.
Last weekend, I had the chance to try Cabin on a return trip from LA to SF. Here’s how it went.
Los Angeles is my own personal 'Carmageddon.' I don't make it down there as much as I would like, because the six-hour drive is inconvenient and traffic can be very stressful.
Of course, I could fly. But it's not cheap and often takes just as long. A round trip flight booked about a month in advance will set you back at least $100, after tax and fees.
Then I discovered Cabin. Entrepreneurs Tom Currier and Gaetano Crupi started the company in 2016 when they saw a need for better budget travel between cities.
The Cabin bus departs from Santa Monica, a beachfront city west of downtown LA, at 11 p.m. seven days a week. It leaves late enough that you can have a full day in the city.
I cruised through the registration process and completed my reservation in 10 minutes . The total came to $US115, which was less than the $US150 I paid for my flight down to LA.
The cost of Cabin varies depending on when you go. Weeknights cost as little as $US85 one-way.
Unlike an airline, Cabin does not let you reserve a specific bunk, or 'sleep pod.'
A few days before my reservation, I received an email with the exact pick-up and drop-off locations and a packing list (comfy pajamas: yes; outside food or alcohol: no).
Cabin recommended passengers arrive 20 to 30 minutes before departure; I came an hour early with the hopes of claiming the best bunk and starting on my beauty sleep early.
Those hope were dashed when I arrived at Palisades Park in Santa Monica and found a small group of people waiting -- and no bus. It arrived almost exactly 30 minutes before departure.
A downstairs lounge, fitted with hardwood laminate floors and caramel leather benches, provides a place for night owls to socialise or get some work done. I headed upstairs.
I was reminded of something Gaetano Crupi, cofounder and COO of Cabin, told me around the time of the shuttle's launch: 'This is not a bus. This is just square footage that moves.'
It looked cleaner than some hotel rooms I've stayed in. The bed linens were pressed and neatly tucked under the mattress. A pillow laid at one end, a comforter at the other.
My reservation included some first-class amenities, including an eye mask, a face wipe, ear plugs, bottled water, and a shot-sized bottle of a melatonin-infused sleep aid called 'Dream Water.'
Then came the tricky part: getting into my pod. I hoisted my leg over the side and kind of shimmied into place. It required some core strength.
The pods may be more luxurious than your average bus seat, but they're not that big. I stand five-foot-four and could not sit up in the sleeping nook. Here's my head against the ceiling.
Once I settled in, the pod was surprisingly comfortable. I could stretch my legs without touching the other end. There was enough vertical room that it wasn't claustrophobic.
I noticed that some of the finishings showed wear and tear -- only a few months after the service's launch. It didn't bother me much, because I was there to sleep.
A few minutes after the bus pulled away, the lights turned off and I drifted into sleep. I was fortunate that the other passengers were quiet and respected that we were there to rest.
Suddenly, I awoke to a voice. 'Ma'am? Ma'am.' I was sleeping so heavily when we arrived in San Francisco, an attendant finally had to wake me at 7. The bus had already emptied.
(I'm not sure what time we arrived in San Francisco, but Cabin lets you stay aboard until 7.)
The bus arrived promptly and left on time. The interiors were clean and comfortable. And best of all, I managed to sleep through the night. The experience beat any red-eye flight I've taken.
I hope the cost will come down as the company scales to new cities, because I will definitely be riding Cabin again.
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