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SleepBus Launches Pilot Program from LA to SF

Sleep Capsules for Coastal Travel coming in to fruition.

Jeremy Joven Editor in Chief

by Jeremy Joven
Published April 30, 2016

Angelenos and San Franciscans love traveling between the two cities, by plane, by train, by car, by bus, and now with a new option, the SleepBus. All of these modes of transport present  so many options, which range from $1 a fare up to $245 and with travel times from 2 hours to 8. I always wondered why everyone didn’t just fly since it is the fastest option, but I am reminded that many of us like to just pickup and go without planning. And to get a good flight, at the right time and price, you have to plan ahead.


For years Megabus and other charter companies have been shuttling travelers up and down the California Coast, and it’s a rather pleasant ride. Plus, you get to stop at an In&Out or the likes in a stinky cow town called Coalinga. It’s an eco-conscious choice over driving a car for sure, but you have leg room issues, unknown seating buddies, and other nuisances picky people love to Yelp about.


Enter SleepBus. The venture was just a mere idea 6 weeks ago dreamed up by Tom Courier and Tyler Gothelf, a couple of SF startup thinkers. This innovative duo thought: Why not have another option where you can sleep and travel in style? The Internet was ablaze with the idea, and they’ve sold over 2000 presale tickets. They don’t have their fleet yet; they’ve started by blocking enough off time to rent a charter to do a Pilot Program. Tyler gave me a preview of the fleet and it is very sexy!


But let’s take a step back. The Sleep Bus idea is not exactly novel. They have services like these in Europe and Asia, but if you’re a commuter in America this is new. For $48 you get to sleep in a comfy bed and wake up like you just time traveled to another place.


SleepBus co-founder Tyler played an active role in my first SleepBus experience. He was on the SleepBus processing ticket checkins and explaining to the passengers how it all works. He’s way ahead in ideation as to what the future of SleepBus will be. Maybe to the detriment of my first impressions on this Pilot Program. Tyler was talking self-driving buses, automated ordering systems for onboard snacks, state of the art comforts and an ambitious plan to take the idea across the country very, very soon.


I kept all of that in mind when I arrived on the SleepBus “bus”... which turned out to be really more of a freight truck. The sleek, technological fantasy Tyler had constructed in my head was entirely at odds with my experience. Starting with the the interior, it’s not quite luxurious nor is it as futuristic as Tyler’s visions for SleepBus. It’s a lot more like hitching a ride with strangers on a personal trailer. That could be fun I guess?


As a reminder, this was SleepBus’ Pilot Program –rough edges and all– which will no longer be available for the month of May. Try to keep that in mind as I faithfully describe my virgin voyage aboard the SleepBus.


First off, the SleepBus departed from Santa Monica. However, the address for the departure site on my email ticket was wrong, and it directed me to some location in Venice. Apparently this was an error made by a programmer that wasn’t in the loop. Also not really surprising given that the founders came up with the idea with zero employees and just tried to give it a run overnight. Thankfully, they posted a map on their website that shows where you’ll find your ride. Said ride had the front of a freight truck, so it was pretty easy to spot among the tiny cars Santa Monica Pier’s North Parking lot.


As you swing the short door open, you will automatically realize it’s a trailer. You give your name and the attendant (in my case Tyler) checks you off the list. There are 20 beds in this bus. Some with 4 levels of beds bunk-bed-style, none had ladders or side bars. There is a privacy curtain and a step ladder to get you up to your destination. Good luck getting down. I hope you’re very spry.


Don’t pick the bottom bunk… At least that is what the other passengers immediately told me. SleepBus has some frequent riders already. I met two of them, a fun-employed woman who just moved to SF from the East Coast and a businessman who splits his time in LA and SF. He made the mistake of picking the bottom bunk once and immediately regretted it because the truck is very, very loud and the tires are right under you. 70 decibels loud according to Tyler. Not ideal for the future of SleepBus, but the founding pair are fully aware of the noise issue and are taking that into consideration as they design their fleet. Our fun-employed lady said she caught “air” on the trip too because it was bouncing a lot. I took the 2nd level bunk. I didn’t lose control of my placement after I adjusted to being horizontal on a driving trip.


There are two common areas, like a restaurant booth, or really the dining room part of a trailer. That’s where you get your free tea or coffee. One nestled by the entrance with a bed above it and another in the back where windows would normally be. Speaking of windows, there aren’t any other than the one by the front of the bus, next to table. There’s a microwave, fridge, toilet, and even a shower. I don’t think anyone showered while we were stopped or en-route. After all, there’s no privacy space to undress and dress.


The bunk itself is actually a super comfy cocoon. I use that word because it’s a lot like being in a cocoon, or what I would imagine a casket feels like inside… Dark and cushy. So hey, if you’re a Vampire you’d love it. All joking aside though, wow, what a difference it made to be able to lay down–especially in the middle of the night. It was so comfortable with soothing driving sounds, and I totally loved having my little room like a Japanese business man. The sheets are apparently from Casper; the mattress makers, and the comforters were actually very comforting. The temp was perfect for me; I was never cold nor hot.


There is Wi-Fi is on board SleepBus, although I imagine this amenity will improve in the future. On my trip the onboard Internet was provided via one Verizon Mobile Hotspot -- basically a mobile router that uses cellular data. I never actually used SleepBus’ Wi-Fi since I had signal throughout the trip.


An hour after boarding most everyone retreats to their bunks and quietly snoozes away. I didn’t hear anyone talking or snoring, and it was heavenly. Tyler said sometimes people socialize more past midnight. Unlike a bus, you can’t really be too social once you’re on the road. It’s a bumpy, rocky ride, and most everyone is sleeping so you feel the urge to be respectful, quiet, and not brighten up shared areas with your iPads playing Netflix.


All sorts of characters ride the SleepBus. A diverse range of ages and ethnicities, all just trying to get to the Bay for the weekend. According to Tyler that has been one of the most eye opening takeaways from the Pilot Program, to see how various different types of people ride with them. He never expected such a huge response to their idea, hence the shotty pilot program, but now that he’s seen there is a huge demand, they’re in a rush for a funding round.


SleepBus’ Pilot Program is ending and transit service won’t be back until the startup’s actual fancy buses are ready. Buses filled with renewed promises of luxurious sleepy time travels. Tyler still has his eyes on how SleepBus will evolve in the future, and he is so excited at the prospect of all of us joining him on that journey. Who knows, maybe soon you’ll be taking SleepBus to Vegas, San Diego, Tahoe, or Portland. Hell, you might even sleep your way out to Austin, New York, or Boston pretty soon. Hopefully SleepBus’ long-term goals for expansion will also come with a deep understanding of transportation regulations and passenger safety. Unlike real freight truck drivers, who may drive for days on end to deliver their cargo, the legal stakes are much, much higher for drivers and their employers when human beings are what’s being delivered.


But I don’t want to gloss over the best part. Regardless of these roadblocks and luxurious upgrades, the SleepBus team doesn’t envision fares going over $65 in order to remain competitive in the saturated market of coastal travel.


PS, they’re looking for funders. If you got half a million to spare you better call them fast! I wouldn’t be surprised if they UBER-ize the bus industry in the next 3 years.


Look for SleepBus’ return this summer. Tyler (optimistically) thinks it will be June 15th, but I’m thinking they have a hell of a lot of work to do before they launch a full-on transit service. When that does happen, I might be SoCal bound more often than I ever thought I needed to be.


Keep up with SleepBus via sleepbus.co


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