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SF To LA Using Public Transit
June 27, 2011 11:04 AM   Subscribe

As a public transit geek, I really enjoyed this story. We've talked about taking public transit on unlikely routes previously, and I read the original blog post giving the directions on how to get from SF to LA using only public transit. But the article from SF Weekly's In Transit blogger, Joe Eskanazi, really brings the trip to life.
posted by agatha_magatha (28 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a public transit geek, I burned out very quickly on the focus on the toothless and stinky.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:22 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can take Amtrak from San Jose to LA for $60, 10 hours. No guarantee as to the bathing habits of your fellow travelers but at least its 20 hours shorter.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:26 AM on June 27, 2011


That was very incredible. I never thought you'd be able to get from place to place given the municipal centred nature of the US.

I'm kind of used to TransWA having busses and trains that go everywhere in Western Australia. In the 400 mile range I can get a 10 hour bus from Perth to Esperance or a 6 hour train ride from Perth to Kalgoorlie for $80. The coaches are nice with toilets and AM/FM while the trains all have AC power and seats that can turn around to face two other seats along with moveable table so if you want to play cards or have a LAN party onboard you can.

Not to mention Telstra has coverage through much of the southwest and along the line The Prospector takes so you can sit on the Internet most of the way.
posted by Talez at 11:34 AM on June 27, 2011


You can take Amtrak from San Jose to LA for $60, 10 hours. No guarantee as to the bathing habits of your fellow travelers but at least its 20 hours shorter.

In the article he mentions that he did that on the return trip.
posted by Floydd at 11:37 AM on June 27, 2011


I never thought you'd be able to get from place to place given the municipal centred nature of the US.

You can get around the US fairly well via things like Amtrak, Greyhound and local public transit. It's just that no one wants to, not to mention it is very slow. There is a very bad connotation attached to anything that isn't flying or driving your car here. Even in the places where the transit is very good there are many people of all classes who will say "I can't believe you take the BUS to work."

I take a combination of bus, light rail and commuter rail to and from work every day due to my car crapping out.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:39 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I also enjoyed that - thanks for posting it. I fantasize about doing things like that myself, but I'm not brave enough to go alone and I don't know anybody crazy enough to do it with me.

*still mad the Green Tortoise stopped its Seattle-LA regular service*
posted by Quietgal at 11:58 AM on June 27, 2011


Even in the places where the transit is very good there are many people of all classes who will say "I can't believe you take the BUS to work."

When I first got the states my wife told me she couldn't take the bus to work because it was too far out of the way.

Turns out there's a bus that runs from outside our condo to her work's front doorstep. And it would take her less time than driving through peak hour traffic.
posted by Talez at 12:01 PM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


You can get around the US fairly well via things like Amtrak, Greyhound and local public transit. It's just that no one wants to, not to mention it is very slow.

Also, and depressingly, flying is often as cheap as (or at least comparable to) Amtrak.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:06 PM on June 27, 2011


If I read correctly, SF to LA via Greyhound takes about 12H and costs as little as $42. Not bad, really. That trip via public transit sounds like an interesting experiment for when I have nothing left to do with my life.

As for Amtrak, they can go to hell. I've done it twice, and should have learned the first time. When getting probed by TSA and flying to the destination is not only faster, not much more expensive, and significantly more pleasant, you know something is broken with that system.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:21 PM on June 27, 2011


Mister Fabulous wrote: You can get around the US fairly well via things like Amtrak, Greyhound and local public transit.

The problem is that Greyhound buses are utter trash (I speak from experience) compared to the motorcoaches in other countries, and Amtrak just doesn't have any service to vast areas of the country. Worse, probably, are the bus stations themselves. In countries where you can't normally count on not encountering thieves, they have security guards with shotguns making sure the bus station is safe. Here, you just have some drunks rifling through your stuff if you glance away.
posted by wierdo at 12:23 PM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, and my experience with Amtrak (on the northeast corridor) was perfectly acceptable, aside from the lounge attendants misinforming us as to which track our train was actually at.
posted by wierdo at 12:25 PM on June 27, 2011


Also, and depressingly, flying is often as cheap as (or at least comparable to) Amtrak

Maybe in the Northeast and on some corridors (Portland to Vancouver, San Jose to Sacramento, etc.). Everywhere else Amtrak is is far enough behind in terms of speed and price it's not really comparable at all.
posted by clorox at 12:41 PM on June 27, 2011


There used to be Interurban Trolleys running between cities all over the US and getting from one city to another via public transit was pretty trivial.
posted by octothorpe at 12:42 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I got a three-month Greyhound pass in 2004. I had a lot of fun, and I've always wanted to do a similar trip. Even on Greyhound (and its smaller, regional partners), you sometimes have to take some pretty convoluted routes.

Amtrak is fun, but it's always late.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:46 PM on June 27, 2011


My experiences with Greyhound (and they are many) have shown me that passenger comfort is at the very bottom of their priorities, if not lower.

I once took a 2,500 mile Greyhound trip from Boston to the Southwest, during which persons unknown fouled the lavatory to complete unusability (shat aaaaaallllll over the seat, walls and floor) in Hartford, CT, but we didn't get a new bus (nor was the lavatory cleaned, obv) until Tulsa, OK.

That's about 24 hours *not* on a Greyhound route, so you can imagine how long it really took, and no bathroom breaks except at food stops and bus stations. Some of us eventually had to make use of that outrageous lavatory. I've never forgotten it.
posted by toodleydoodley at 1:02 PM on June 27, 2011


I've taken Amtrak California several times, and each time I'm thrilled with how damn civilized the train is.

The problem is the vicious circle; Amtrak is often late because it doesn't own the rails. (The Wikipedia article notes that freight railroads were illegally not giving Amtrak trains priority, and the on-time performance has recently radically improved on many corridors.) Because it's often late, people don't ride it; especially (sad to say) higher-income people for whom time is money. Because people (especially those with some clout) don't ride it, there's no constituency demanding Amtrak have exclusive right of way. So Amtrak has to share the rails, and it's late.

Greyhound, on the other hand; last time I took it I got a receipt labelled "Not good for transportation", which is the most concise description of Greyhound available.

In comparison, in Argentina, a massive fleet of double-decker coaches plies the routes between cities, with lie-flat seats, food and beverage service, and very reasonable prices. The coaches are clean and comfortable, which I shouldn't have to explicitly say, except that this is in comparison with Greyhound. The only problem is the on-board movies tend to feature Owen Wilson romantic comedies.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:09 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only problem is the on-board movies tend to feature Owen Wilson romantic comedies.

I'd rather walk.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:21 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I took the Greyhound between Minneapolis and Milwaukee - clean, new bus, overly zealous with the air conditioning, otherwise very comfortable and had no complaints. Took 8 hours. Just really disliked the bus station in Milwaukee.

For my 23rd birthday, I flew to Boston to sleep on my friend's couch for a week (right across the street from Boston Common) and then took the Amtrak back to St. Cloud (I'd always been fascinated by trains). Amtrak FTW. The seats are about TWICE as wide as the plane seats with enough leg room to stretch out my legs to the FOOT REST in front of me. I was sitting next to a very large woman and we were both basking in all of the room and comfort we each had. You could get up and move around and use the clean bathrooms and eat in the dining car (with real, restaurant quality food - at least better than Perkins or Denny's). The trains from Boston to Chicago all had electrical outlets next to the seats so I could plug in my cell phone and CD player. I had no problems with the trains being late or any questionable other riders. The only smelly riders we had were the Amish (maybe) young girls we picked up in the middle of Wisconsin. The only complaint - it takes too dang long to get anywhere and I don't have enough vacation time to schedule 1.5 days each way to get places. But my (retired) in-laws swear by Amtrak - especially the Empire Builder they take to Oregon each winter.
posted by jillithd at 1:28 PM on June 27, 2011


In many ways his trip mirrors my own migration over the years. Lived for 13 years in Hollister, (just south of Gilroy), went to high school in Salinas, then college in San Luis Obispo. Now I'm living in Santa Barbara.

It's fascinating to get an outsider's perspective on all these strange places I've grown up in. The sketchy bus station and train station in Salinas, the shuts-down-at-5pm-even-on-Friday ghost town feel of King City, the odd characters I've encountered on the San Luis Obispo transit system. All contrasting with the miles of wonderful scenery

(As a side note, I'd like to recommend the train ride between Goleta and San Luis Obispo as one of the most beautiful trips I've taken. It's roughly a 100 mile trip, about 80% of it on the coast, the rest through vineyards.)
posted by JauntyFedora at 1:59 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been wondering if DC to Boston is possible. It's actually mostly doable by commuter rail, with gaps across northwestern Delaware/northeastern Maryland (this one can be closed with buses) and from New London, CT to Providence, RI. Does anyone know how to close the gap in New England?
posted by madcaptenor at 2:26 PM on June 27, 2011


@madcaptenor, dc to boston is not possible. My friend and I spent an evening playing this game once. There's a gap, if you go north either along the coast or through central Connecticut. I don't remember where you get stuck along the coast, but about the furthest you can get going straight north is Belchertown, MA. Worcester and Boston don't connect.
posted by millipede at 2:39 PM on June 27, 2011


madcaptenor: There's the Northeast Regional Amtrak route, or do you mean strictly by city/county/state bus or train?
posted by jillithd at 2:39 PM on June 27, 2011


I meant by rules analogous to the ones in this post. So Amtrak doesn't count. I've done Boston to DC plenty of times on Amtrak, since for a long time I lived in Boston and was seeing someone who lived in DC and we never could plan enough in advance to find reasonably priced plane tickets.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:43 PM on June 27, 2011


I have find memories f taking Amtrak from NYC to Montreal, lots of reading and sleeping, you just can't make any plans that would be ruined by a five hour delay.
posted by The Whelk at 3:04 PM on June 27, 2011


Maybe in the Northeast and on some corridors (Portland to Vancouver, San Jose to Sacramento, etc.). Everywhere else Amtrak is is far enough behind in terms of speed and price it's not really comparable at all.

Even in the corridors, NYC to Boston seems to generally be as cheap and, of course, much faster on JetBlue, though all the security rigamarole does wash out some of the advantage. The differences seem to only get worse for Amtrak the longer your trip is (e.g. NYC to Chicago), and for short trips there's often other options that undercut it anyway.

It really seems to occupy a bizarre space in American public transportation. Greyhound is cheaper, more reliable, and not really any slower if your budget is a concern; if you're going to spend the extra money you might as well fly and get there faster. The only place Amtrak wins is on comfort - it's probably the most relaxing of the available options.

(As long as you don't mind getting stranded in New Haven after being told, halfway through your trip, that all train service for the day has suddenly been cancelled. That's not super relaxing.)
posted by en forme de poire at 7:48 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Worcester and Boston don't connect

Oh, it only seems like that in the winter, when the aging locomotives die, but there's been commuter-rail service between Worcester and Boston for ages now. In fact, the MBTA is looking to increase the number of trains and start running some of them to North Station (via an old freight bridge over the Charles and a grade crossing by MIT), in addition to the existing South Station service.
posted by adamg at 9:09 PM on June 27, 2011


adamg, I think millipede was saying that the Springfield area doesn't connect to Worcester and Boston.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:19 AM on June 28, 2011


DC to Boston?
posted by roll truck roll at 9:05 AM on June 28, 2011


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