There once was was a tech bus that everyone in San Francisco actually loved. Back in April 2016, a cool new bus line called SleepBus that offered overnight trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles dominated local conversation for a week. With personal sleep pods and wifi service, it was just $50 each way.
SleepBus was overwhelmed with ticket requests immediately upon launching. All dates quickly sold out, and anyone who tried to buy a ticket was told to sign up for a waitlist. Phone calls to its office went straight to voicemail. SleepBus quietly declared itself on hiatus, after just two weeks of wildly successful ticket sales.
“We sold out in 36 hours. There were 4,000 reservation attempts. Our wait list got to to 20,000 people,” says Gaetano Crupi, president and co-founder of the company that’s back, and now called Cabin. “We shut it down. Not because it wasn’t working, but we weren’t prepared for that scale. People were getting upset that they couldn’t get tickets, and we didn’t want to burn those relationships.”
Cabin allowed SF Weekly to take a tour of the new buses, which will resume making those S.F.-to-L.A. round trips beginning July 14. The buses’ chic, futuristic sleeping pods and interior design have a neo-kitschy, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey flair, and let you fall asleep and wake up 500 miles away for an intercity mobile hotel experience that Crupi calls “traveling without the travel time.”
The amenities on Cabin are light-years beyond those of a cheap red-eye flight. The sleeper pods come with clean, crisp sheets, and the Wifi is free. The sleeping nooks are a little more than six feet long and three feet tall, with room for just one person to sleep. But the pods have nice, soft headboards, and the buses are less cramped and have more lounge space so friends traveling together can enjoy a road-trip-meets-sleepover kind experience. Staff all wear Pan-Am-inspired flight-attendant uniforms to add to the fun.
“There is an attendant,” Crupi tells SF Weekly. “There is coffee in the morning. There is tea before going to bed. There are amenities.”
This all comes on a luxury double-decker bus with a lounge and hardwood floors downstairs, and a carpeted upstairs, where sleeper pods have retractable shade windows.
In contrast, the old 2016 SleepBus was not even a bus. It was a rented big-rig semi truck with only “Illinois Charter” logo and branding. The SleepBus team had no intention of using that truck permanently: They’d rented it for a month to see if they could sell tickets online.
Relaunched as Cabin, the new service still works in pretty much the same way. Travelers board at 11 p.m. at a location near Rincon Park, spend the night in between lush little sleeper-pod sheets, and wake up in Santa Monica at around 7 a.m. after a full night’s sleep.
Except the trip does not cost $50 anymore — one-way trips are now “starting at” $115, with round trips in the $230 range. “Ticket prices depend on when you book your ticket relative to the selected departure date,” Cabin says in a news release.
A savvy comparison-shopper can usually find cheaper flights than that to L.A. online, depending on the weekend, so Cabin is no longer undercutting most airlines on price.
Cabin has three buses, and currently only offers service between San Francisco and Los Angeles. They’ll start weekend-only service between the two cities on July 14, but won’t offer nightly trips until Sept. 1, finally capping off their 16-month attempt to make this overnight bus service a reality.
“It took us a long time,” Crupi says, looking over a bus full of 24 luxury sleeping pods and sweet lounge furnishings. “But once you’re inside this vehicle, you’ll realize why.”