Gas Busters Bus Battle Round 2: Los Angeles to San Francisco

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Passing on the gas bill to the bus operators is a smart look for travelers this summer: Even if you live in Hollywood.

And, West Coaster commuters now have more options than Greyhound for a cheap route—$45!—when they travel the 382-mile, six-hour sojurn between Los Angeles and San Francisco. That’s due in part to intrepid bus entrepreneur Kazuhiro Nakagawa, who founded the California Shuttle Bus in 2003.

The underground popularity of the California Shuttle Bus, whose niche includes the option of catching a bus at one of several popular area hotels, such as a Hilton in Glendale and two area Holiday Inns (IHG), has slowly spawned lower prices and even more competition— Chinatown bus—recently entered the market—which is a win/win situation for travelers.

So which service is the best deal? On Yelp.com, a consumer site where people can rate products, including bus lines, user Nancy Y. praised California Shuttle Bus. “This service is awesome, on the fly, any day, head on up or down between LA and SF,” posts Nancy. “Make a call, grab your carry on, and you're on your way for $45 bucks.”

California Shuttle Bus is also expanding its service. “Beginning on June 23, 2008, California Shuttle Bus will have departures at noon and midnight between Los Angeles and San Francisco," Nakagawa tells MainStreet. (The bus line had previously made only one trip per day.)
Chinatown bus offers travelers another alternative. And given the BoltBus’ recent venture on the East Coast, it may only be a matter of time before their service (complete with wifi access) hits the road as well. One thing is for sure: Even if gas prices continue to go up, the cost of bus travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco is on its way down.

The tale of the tape so far:

CALIFORNIA SHUTTLE BUS
WHAT IT COSTS: $45 one way from Los Angeles to San Francisco. $60 for “luxury service” (a guarantee that the seat next to yours will be vacant).
PROS: Cheaper than Greyhound and much faster. A normal one-way ride clocks in at about 6 hours. Service includes multiple pick-up and drop-off locations in both cities.
CONS: The multiple locations also can result in more time stuck in city traffic. As Yelp.com used Kim C. notes, “What sucks is that they have several 'stops' they make before they take off on the freeway.”

CHINATOWNBUS.ORG
WHAT IT COSTS: Allegedly $20 One Way, $35 Round Trip. (http://www.chinatown-bus.org/
PROS: Three pick-up locations around San Francisco (Cupertino, Oakland, San Francisco). Drop-off in Los Angeles is in a convenient area (Monterrey Park).
CONS: Advertised price is $35 Round Trip. However, when MainStreet visited the Chinatown-bus.org site, the homepage advertised a Los Angeles – San Francisco bus costing travelers $20 one way and $35 round trip. After making a reservation, we discovered that the cost is actually $60 dollars each way, with a $15 dollar “discount” for scheduling a round trip. Calls for an explanation, placed with Chinatown bus, were not returned.
Also, don't be late returning to the bus during a bathroom break, the driver will not count heads before leaving at the appointed time.

GREYHOUND
WHAT IT COSTS: Cheapest one-way ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco was a $45 "unrefundable ticket." (A “refundable ticket” raised the price to $70.)
PROS: You’ll get there. Eventually.
CONS: Multiple stops between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Horror stories posted on www.yelp.com, purportedly from other riders include tales of 14 hour trips, dirty bus stations, disgusting bathrooms, and creepy passengers. Did we mention the 14 hour trip?

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