Flixbus, a German long-haul bus company entering the U.S. market, has just launched a number of bus routes across Southern California, including three daily departures from Palm Springs to Los Angeles and vice versa. The company also offers routes to Las Vegas, Tuscon and San Diego.
"No one wants to drive anymore," said Pierre Gourdain, the company's managing director in the U.S.
According to Gourdain, the company held focus groups, observed popular search terms and studied transportation data collected across the country, to see where personal transportation was headed. Especially city residents, they said, who are increasingly tired of driving, and likely to ditch a personal car for ride-sharing apps.
"It's a new way of transportation in American cities," Gourdain said, and one he expects to stick around. "We're not going back on this," he added.
There's just one challenge for city dwellers seeking to avoid car payments, increasing gas prices and endless parking spot hunts for good: long-distance travel.
"You have people who want to travel long-distance, and they have no nice options to do it," Gourdain said.
As an example, Palm Springs residents hoping to travel to L.A. for the weekend were previously offered less appealing options. A wild patchwork of public transportation and the Greyhound bus from Indio would take passengers a whopping six hours and 22 minutes.
Amtrak offers a connection via Fullerton, but the last bus on that connection leaves Palm Springs at 3:05 p.m., making it a non-starter for anyone with a 9-to-5 work schedule.
Travelers interested in the new connection offered by Flixbus have four daily departures to choose from, ranging from 3:30 a.m. to 8:40 p.m. on Fridays. I hopped on their 5:50 p.m. departure after work, to see if the new service could really make me give up the comfort of my own car.
Here's how my travel went:
5:15 p.m. : I call a car to take me to the pickup location at the Pilot Travel Center near the I-10 in North Palm Springs. I'll be gone over the weekend, and I really don't feel like leaving my car out in the desert for days.
5:20 p.m.: Shannon arrives and helps me load my suitcase into SUV. It is hot, hot, hot and I can't wait to sit in a climate-controlled environment.
5:32 p.m.: Shannon drops me off at the Pilot Travel station. I go inside to buy snacks. So far, it's unexpectedly pricey.
5:43 p.m.: I'm starting to panic. No slime-green bus in sight. I check the Flixbus App, search for the description of the Palm Springs stop and see a little note: Pickup at the ExtraMile RV parking lot. I have no idea where that is and neither does the cashier.
5:46 p.m.: I spy with my little eye a big, green bus in front of the Chevron gas station across the street. Their travel shop is called ExtraMile, got it. Crisis averted.
5:55 p.m.: OK, now I'm hitting the road with my phone and laptop charging, connected to the free Wi-Fi and ready to watch some old-ish movies. I have no seat neighbor, but with two USB ports and power outlets per seat, potential turf wars are nipped in the bud.
6:23 p.m.: I make a call to my husband in L.A. We're in Beaumont. Note: Do not wear a short dress on the Flixbus, the seat fabric is a little prickly. Otherwise, a smooth and comfortable ride so far.
7:20 p.m.: We've been breezing through, and are somehow in West Covina all of a sudden. I'm shook.
7:40 p.m: I stumble out of the bus at Union Station in Los Angeles, confused. How did we get here so fast? The wheels of my car may never touch L.A. streets again.
Personal cars won't become obsolete anytime soon, at least for Palm Springs residents. Especially given the pickup location, Flixbus customers will either need to shell out just as much for the ride to the bus stop as for the trip itself or hitch a ride with a friend. Once there, however, the bus can immediately hit the freeway, making the trip a total breeze.
Traveling to L.A. in under two hours is something I have yet to accomplish in my car, and at $14.99 the bus ticket is cheaper than even the most gas-efficient personal vehicle.
This isn't my first rodeo. As a student in Germany, I've spent many a Friday afternoon on a Flixbus. The cheap, reliable service has made the company a staple of the German and European travel market in the past five years. If their homegrown success is any indication, Flixbus is poised to expand its U.S. services soon.
The company's managing director for the U.S. market is hopeful. "We would love to open San Francisco soon," Gourdain said. Routes to and from the Central Valley are also in the works.