Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California
Image: All Photos By Bradley Brownell

Bus and train transport over long distances is a pretty normal thing pretty much everywhere else in the world except the U.S. It’s a great idea to toss a bunch of people into a bus for a long highway stint instead of having all of them in their own individual cars. I needed to pick up a car in Northern California and rather than having my wife drive with me to get it, I decided to take available transit methods to go myself. Not only in an attempt to minimize my impact on weekend traffic, but to minimize my impact on wasting my wife’s time as well.

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I took a car to a bus to a train to an Uber to my car, and this is how it went.

First the why. A few months ago I was having some issues with altitude-induced engine issues in my old Porsche. I live just East of Reno, Nevada at 4300 feet and it was running fine up here, but not so great at sea level. So I delivered it to Sports Purpose Garage in the San Francisco Bay Area for diagnosis and repair, about 200 miles away.

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It turned out that on top of vacuum and electrical issues, I just had a really old engine with lots of miles that needed a full rebuild. So here we are, several months and several thousand dollars later with a freshly rebuilt engine (and freshly rebuilt suspension while we were at it) and the car was ready for pickup. I booked my bus and headed out the door.

Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California

I’ve taken FlixBus and MegaBus before for various one-way travel reasons, and I’ve always appreciated the ability to get several hours away without needing to slog through the drive myself, enjoying free wifi to get some work done, or watch a streaming movie or whatnot. When I go to San Francisco, the fare to take the bus is usually a few dozen dollars less than what I’d spend on fuel, parking, and the bay bridge toll. This trip cost me $17.50, including a $2 processing fee.

MegaBus quit running this route, but FlixBus has contracted with Amador Stage Lines to keep it going at least a dozen times a week. I booked a ticket for Sunday at noon. This would usually arrive at 4, get me to my car by about 5:30, and I’d be home in time for whatever thing we’d watch on streaming that night. The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.

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The first big negative was that, due to weather-related traffic over I-80 at Donner Summit, my bus didn’t arrive until nearly 1PM. My wife dropped me off at the station and left to go to a holiday party at a friend’s house. Well, lets get loaded. I always pack a few small snacks and a water for this journey, but this time I had a backpack loaded down with snow chains for my car, a blanket, a coat, a scarf, mittens, and a powerbank to keep my phone charged, just in case.

Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California
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A bit about the bus. It appears to be a TEMSA TS 45 model with a Cummins ISX inline-six diesel with about 430 horsepower and just shy of 2000 lb-ft of torque. These big chums are built in Turkey apparently, and are actually quite nice. As has been noted in previous car tests, I’m a large fellow, so leg room is always a problem for me, but this wasn’t too bad. Certainly no worse than any airline. And this bus at least offers a foot rest, which was nice.

Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California
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My main reason for taking the bus is always an ability to do anything but drive on the highway for four hours. Forget autonomous cars, the bus is the future. I was able to lean back and just check out the views, which in the Sierra Nevadas are fucking stellar.

Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California
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Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California
Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California
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Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California

Plus I got to do a bit of car spotting. Check out this CRX (among others) at a Sacramento repair shop.

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Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California

Or this Vanagon heading into Oakland on I-80.

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And goddamn, these views are spectacular at sunset.

Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California
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With some slow traffic across the pass and a late start, we rolled into Oakland at about 5:30, well after the planned arrival, but I didn’t mind because I was well rested and ready to board my train. Bay Area Rapid Transit is not known as the best system in the world, but it’s pretty cheap and relatively easy to use. That is, if you’re familiar with it. I loaded 5 bucks onto my clipper card to pay the $4.60 fare, and headed up to the trains.

Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California
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What I didn’t know was that BART runs a separate schedule specifically for Sundays. It drops one line, and shortens another. I waited at the West Oakland station looking for my blue line train to take me out to Pleasanton.

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After 30 minutes of standing around I found the Sunday map and realized I needed to take the Antioch train to 12th street to transfer to the Pleasanton train. Goddamn, I felt like an idiot.

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So, once I got that figured out, It was a short hour-ish train down to the end of the line. My mechanic is about eight miles beyond that point.

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The yellow line was fucking packed, but once I got on the blue line it was quiet and easy. The seats are wide and comfortably padded, and I had lots of knee room. I could see this getting old if I had to use it every day, but it’s not too bad when used in moderation. And according to my Waze app, it topped out at 68 miles per hour!

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And then we get to my least cost-effective part of the journey, the Uber for the final few miles. It was $19.23 with tip, more than two dollars per mile!

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Then I picked up this ridiculously loud 1976 Porsche 912E with about 30 mileson the engine rebuild and headed back to Reno. It took nearly seven hours and $41.33 to get to the car, and about 4 hours (and 6 gallons of regular gas) to get back home.

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Of course my car has headers and a pair of trumpets for an exhaust with no heat exchangers, so all of that winter weather gear was needed to get home. It was about 10 degrees at the top of the pass, and my toes and fingers haven’t quite thawed out yet.

Illustration for article titled Heres What I Learned On My Bus And Train Journey Across California
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So what did I learn? Busses and trains are extremely good. The bus delays were all caused by nasty snowy road traffic on the interstate, so I would have been just as delayed in that if I were driving. And this way I didn’t have to pay for the fuel to get my wife’s Regal TourX to the bay area and back.

The long-distance bus has pretty much been perfected. It’s quiet and comfortable and cheap. The train has a long way to go in this country. I’ve ridden TGV in France. We need that shit like yesterday. That said, the BART beats driving around the extremely poorly planned and extremely overburdened roads of the SF area.

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Transit options are good. Especially when there’s a fresh Porsche at the end of the line ready for pick up.

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.

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