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By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Would you take a bus to LA?

Uploaded: Jul 28, 2019
Buses are climate-friendly, cheap to ride, and don’t require any special tracks or right of ways. They are an important transportation alternative on our warming planet, but we don’t seem to ride them much around here. What is it like to take them, and what would it take for us to use them more often?

To begin with, this blog post is about longer-haul buses, specifically between here and LA. Would you consider taking a bus? I hope the information here will help you decide.

Below is a chart showing the climate impact of a round-trip from San Jose to LA. (1)


So, by all means drive if you pack the family in the car. It’s also the best way to take your family pet(s) along! But if you are going on your own -- is the bus an option for you? Here is my take on the pros and cons.

Reason to take the bus: Lower climate impact. A plane has 4-5 times the climate impact of a bus, per passenger, even when the bus is just over half full.

Reason to take a plane: Faster. A bus takes at least 7 hours each way, while a plane takes about 1.5 hours. Even when you include an additional hour for the extra time to get to and from the airport and to wait in the airport, there is still a 4.5 hour difference. (Buses have minimal check-in time, and the stations are often in more convenient locations than airports.)

Reason to take the bus: Cheaper. This is particularly true if you are trying to purchase tickets without much advance notice. Bus tickets are around $20 each way, while air fare is around $130. If you book a flight well in advance, it can be as low as $60 each way, while the bus could be $10.

Reason to fly: No stops. Buses are required to stop once or even twice on this route, per California’s rest break law. The stops are in a parking lot along the highway with a fast-food place or two. Maybe this is a plus for some -- you can stretch your legs, buy a drink, or use the facilities -- but the two stops were long on my trip from LA (30 minutes each), and I’d rather just get where I’m going.


View from one of the two 30-minute Megabus rest stops. The other stop was similar.

Reason to take the bus: Station charm. Both the San Jose station (Diridon Station, est. 1935) and Los Angeles station (Union Station, est. 1939) have some historic charm. The airports? Not so much.


Pictures of Diridon Station in San Jose, clockwise from top left: Exterior; Main lobby; Historic display; Main lobby seating.


Pictures of Union Station in LA, clockwise from top left: Exterior; Main lobby; stairs with fountain leading up to bus stands; underground walkway to transit terminal.

Reason to fly: Station amenities. Airports have better amenities, presumably because they bring in more money. Seating is much better, shops are nicer, the space is air conditioned, etc. Should our cities be investing more in bus terminals?


Diridon Station offers snacks and books. The bus wing of Union Station had a handful of eating places, but they were in various states of open and there was almost no seating. It looked like a work in progress.

Reason to take the bus: Less need to plan ahead. It is pretty easy to hop on a bus at the last minute, finding an empty seat without paying too much extra. Plane fare, on the other hand, gets much pricier the longer you wait. Taking the bus can have that spontaneous Jack Reacher feel to it...

Reason to take the plane: Makes you feel special. Okay, this is less true of the LA plane shuttles. But still at least someone walks down the aisle to offer you a drink and pretzels. No such service on a bus.

Reason to take the bus: Slice of America. You get to see more of America when you take a bus, and it feels like a part of our history. There are also some great songs about buses -- you can make a playlist to pass the time.

Reason to take the plane: Better schedule fit. Not only are planes faster, but there are more of them. Southwest offers about 12 flights a day to LA. Megabus and Greyhound each offer about six “express” rides per day. (Greyhound also has a few slower ones with more stops.) Though when you combine departure times for all the bus and plane services, it’s probably a wash.

For the record, here are some non-differences: The (relatively few) buses I’ve taken were about as quiet as planes, and the seats and amenities seem similar. Sitting in a bus feels like sitting in a plane, except the windows are bigger. Both are sometimes late. I have the sense that buses are late more often but by a smaller amount, though that is just a guess. All three of my buses either arrived late or departed late, though only the first by more than 30 minutes. On the plus side, the bus services offer real-time bus tracking.


Greyhound's real-time bus tracking

If time is your highest priority, then without a doubt a plane is your best option. Or, you could opt to use the bus specifically because it’s a slower trip, and then force yourself to think hard about how to go less often, which could save even more time. Well, maybe your mind works that way...

If you want to try the bus, there are three main options: Greyhound, Megabus, and (new on the scene) Flix Bus.



For this blog post, I took a Megabus from LA to San Jose and a Greyhound on a segment of that route (a round-trip from San Jose to Santa Cruz). A high schooler I know took Flix Bus recently, so I’ll incorporate his thoughts here, but I don’t have any direct experience with it.

Megabus. Megabus was founded in 2006 in Chicago, with the goal of innovating beyond the established stalwart Greyhound. Megabus has now expanded to over 50 cities in the US, plus more in the UK. Their mission is to offer efficient city-to-city routes at low fares. Their easy online booking and advance purchase discounts allows them to better fill buses and plan schedules, which keeps costs down. They deploy high-capacity double-decker buses that fit up to 81 people, which further lowers fares and reduces emissions.


A Megabus parked at a rest stop along the way

Indeed, their fares from LA to San Jose are cheaper and have fewer stops than the competition, though some Greyhound buses come close. They have easy online booking, as do the other services.

The bus from LA was quiet, though there were probably 40-50 people in it. It was quite warm -- the AC was too weak to counteract the sun coming in through the windows in the front of the bus.


Megabus has big front-facing windows on top, but they get very warm from the sun and the shade does not pull down the whole way.

The bus left on time but arrived almost an hour late. The driver was not apologetic, or even communicative, and did not shorten the stops along the way to try to hit his schedule. As a result, I missed the last train from Diridon and had to take a Lyft, which was convenient but cost more than the bus ticket from LA.

Unfortunately, I neglected to take pictures of the interior of the bus. This one from the Megabus company shows some of the reserved (for a small fee) seats covered in blue, and the unreserved cloth seats behind. You can see the seats are fairly close together, with large windows but no overhead storage.


Megabus interior, courtesy of Megabus

Greyhound. Greyhound was founded in 1914 in Minnesota to help miners get to work. It has expanded over the last 100+ years to become one of the largest bus services in the US, serving almost 4000 destinations. A college student who is staying with us for the summer sung the praises of his trip to LA on Greyhound, so I checked it out with a shorter ride to Santa Cruz, a nonstop route from San Jose that is part of a longer route to Los Angeles. (3)


Greyhound bus parked at Diridon

As expected, the fares were somewhat higher than Megabus, but the buses were much nicer. (Greyhound has recently refurbished its buses.) The bus we took to Santa Cruz was very new, with comfortable seats, good leg room, and nice overhead fixtures, including storage racks.


Interior of Greyhound bus

There was also a (working) onboard entertainment system, complete with free movies and TV shows on the first (newest) bus. The bus on the return trip had (working) free internet but no entertainment. Megabus claims to have a similar onboard entertainment offering, but reviews are poor, with remarks that it rarely works. (I did not try it.)


Screenshots of Greyhound’s mobile entertainment system on its newest buses

The driver was very friendly, making announcements about schedules and policies. He seemed like he cared and wanted the ride to be pleasant. The driver on the return trip was somewhat more engaged than the Megabus driver, but not a particular selling point.

The Greyhound terminal is integrated with Amtrak at Diridon, and has its own ticket booth in Santa Cruz (albeit empty when we were there). So its presence seems a bit more “official”, perhaps because it has been around for longer.


Amtrak/Greyhound booth in Diridon Station

Flix Bus. Flix Bus was launched in Germany in 2013 and has rapidly expanded across Europe since then, arriving in the US in mid-2018. A junior in high school I know was eager to try it because of convenient stops in Millbrae and near UCLA. But he was not impressed. He had difficulty sleeping due to lack of leg room and meager seat recline, plus the bus stopped every two hours. There was a “distinct smell of weed” and he felt that a few of the people on the bus might make a single female traveler uncomfortable. He summed it up saying “It just wasn’t a pleasant 8 hours…. The bus was a fine temperature and did take me where I wanted to go on time and for very little money. But I would not go so far as to recommend it to anyone.”

All three bus services. All seats have working power outlets. All bus services have some options for advanced boarding, for exchanging tickets, and for real-time tracking of buses. It is more difficult to cancel tickets. Megabus does not allow it, and Greyhound allows it only if you purchase a much more expensive ticket. Only Flix Bus allows cancellations with minimal fee, though you get a credit rather than a refund.

I had the opportunity to talk with Bryony Chamberlain, Regional Vice President of Megabus, who has been with the company since it started in 2006. I asked her about innovation in intercity bus travel. Megabus led with efficient online booking and fast, city-to-city express buses. But others have caught on, and since then they are leap-frogging on features, whether it is wifi, or power at the seat, or onboard entertainment. Megabus has looked into sleeper buses, ala Cabin, but they don’t see how to make the economics work.

In 2015 Megabus deployed a set of new driver-facing tools to improve safety and mileage, and has since seen a “huge difference” in safety performance (and insurance rates) and “some difference” in maintenance and fuel costs. In the future they may look into alternative fuels to further lower their emissions.

Chamberlain is very excited about the potential for buses to help lower transportation emissions. The way she thinks about it, “one person needs one gallon of fuel to go 500 miles”. When fuel prices spiked in 2012-2013, Megabus saw a big growth in ridership, which is largely younger singles or budget-conscious families. When fuel prices later went down, ridership remained above earlier levels. She attributes that to lower car ownership among the younger generations, which bodes well for lowering transportation emissions.

I asked about on-time behavior, since my Megabus arrived late enough in San Jose for me to miss the last train. Chamberlain said “well over 95%” of buses in the California network depart within 20-25 minutes of the scheduled time, but traffic can impact arrivals. They set their published intervals to be tight, but not so tight that it puts pressure on the driver. They regularly monitor adherence and adjust the published times as needed.

Megabus currently serves over six million customers a year. As a result, they have fairly centrally located stops, but Chamberlain would still like to see stronger support for these buses. Cities like San Francisco, for example, should provide bus stops by stations or other sheltered space, rather than have passengers wait at curbs.

I hope this helps to demystify these buses a little. I would love to hear from people who have taken them more frequently, since my experience is limited. I learned to expect some amount of lateness, and to hope for a newer bus. If I were to ride Megabus again, I would opt for the first floor, which would be cooler and may also be safer. If the schedule works, though, I would probably opt for Greyhound based on their newer buses. I don’t love taking the bus, but I also don’t love the emissions emitted by planes. So I will keep experimenting to see what works.

Notes and References

1. The plane estimates are from this offset site, which is the only one I have found to incorporate the (significant) impact of contrails, ozone, and more, and to refine to a specific carrier. The plane specified in this case is one used by Southwest for this trip. Diesel fuel emissions are from this site, and diesel bus highway mileage is estimated at 4 mpg for a 50-seat bus and 3.5 mpg for a double-decker 80-seat bus. It may be somewhat higher due to real-time feedback some buses display for the driver. Gas emissions for passenger cars are from the EPA.

2. There are cheaper ways to get to Santa Cruz, such as the Highway 17 Express, shown here. It is just $7 each way with no fees (you pay on the bus). The Greyhound round-trip was more like $25.

Incidentally, does this marketing make anyone else nuts? The italic print on the right says “Powered By Natural Gas”. Argh!!



Current Climate Data (June 2019)

Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 28, 2019 at 9:43 am

If I had cause to go there, if it was cheaper and or more convenient than flying/driving then the answer is yes.

In my younger days I traveled on a shoestring budget on many forms of transport. I carried a rucksack on a couple of my adventures. Adventure it was, because although there was a goal in mind, it was often full of Plan B events which made it much more interesting. I gained a lot of experience from all of these adventures and would recommend them to all young people although of course it isn't wise to journey alone and other sensible precautions should be taken.

Travel with "stuff" is part of the problem. Now that airlines charge for check in baggage, so many people figure out that they can survive a week with just a couple of changes of essential clothes and toiletries can be bought at destinations. Bus travel of course means that more "stuff" can be taken along and that makes a difference too.

Modern buses are very comfortable with plenty of amenities. Rest stops are frequent enough to prevent boredom and with wifi even more so. Sleep positions can be more comfortable on a bus also which helps. Depending on the length of time to get to airports, buses can appear to be a fast option.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Resident X, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Jul 28, 2019 at 5:03 pm

One thing not addressed here is the very important topic of personal safety.

What is the relative safety of each mode of transportation? For me, it's not simply about price, speed, convenience and environmental issues. I need to make it to my destination in one piece before anything else.

Since California HSR isn't a reality yet, let's use a different example. Japan built the world's first commercial HSR line way back in 1964, the Tokaido Shinkansen (initially between Tokyo and Osaka), extended that line and has added multiple other bullet trains to the Shinkansen network.

Today, the Tokaido Shinkansen line handles about 450,000 riders per day. Caltrain? About 65,000 per **WEEK.** The JR Yamanote loop line in Tokyo handles 4,000,000 riders per day.

The Tokaido Shinkansen has zero track-related fatalities in 55 years of operation. Oh and all other Shinkansen lines
total zero as well. Caltrain averages about 12-16 track-related fatalities annually.

JR Shinkansen operators apologize profusely if the train arrives two minutes late.

Perhaps in the next blog posting, we can see the fatalities per passenger mile traveled. Just a thought.

As far as I'm concerned, the automobile ride to the airport is ***FAR*** more dangerous than the flight itself.

But I can see the environmental benefits of taking a bus.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 28, 2019 at 10:14 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Resident -- Yes, I was surprised how nice the Greyhound bus was! Re baggage, Southwest at least has a very liberal baggage policy (I think two bags can be checked free), so buses aren't that different (first bag free, two more at a small $10-$20 charge).

@ResidentX -- Agree that of the options, driving a car is probably the most dangerous. The intercity buses had some safety problems about ten years ago, but they have gotten much better in the past few years. I will share some stats in the next post. The stat about Japanese train safety is incredible. Thanks for sharing that!

Thanks for the questions/comments.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 28, 2019 at 11:48 pm

Took a Greyhound from LA to Dallas once because I couldn't afford the plane ticket at the time as a college student. ~ 32+ hours of sheer hell. I would never do it again. Seats were very uncomfortable... stopped at sketchy places in the middle of the night (bus stations are often in bad neighborhoods), and generally took a heavy toll on my physical well being sitting crunched up without any ability to recline or have my head supported by the too short seat back. Yes planes are uncomfortable too, but other than international flights to Asia, you are never on a plane for the length of time you need to sit on a slow moving bus to get anywhere.Think twice about taking a long haul bus if you are taller than average, or not a youngster with robust health.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by another one rides the bus, and another one..., a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jul 29, 2019 at 8:52 am

> The Tokaido Shinkansen has zero track-related fatalities ... Caltrain averages about 12-16 track-related fatalities annually.

Apples and oranges. That's a real reach.

Sherry: reason for bus - see the schedule you posted. Fly to Salinas? Watsonville?

More options.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jul 29, 2019 at 4:44 pm

I'm just not your target market.

If I'm traveling solo I'm optimizing for time and taking an airplane.

If I'm traveling with family we're probably piling into the car and driving, which gets equivalent carbon footprint and the advantage of stops when and where you want them.

If there was a viable faster-than-driving rail service that ran on time I would totally consider that.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 29, 2019 at 7:14 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Great comments! I have never thought so much about buses...

@Dan: That sounds unbelievably awful. I am impressed you even thought to try it. (How is it that 6’4” Jack Reacher seems to manage it in the Lee Child books? I wonder if the author has ever tried a long bus ride…)

FWIW, keep in mind that the LA trip is an express -- very few stops -- and less than one quarter the distance. So it is at least less awful :)

You can see why, though, people with lower incomes have lower emissions, because they have fewer options. You can also see why they travel less! A question I have is: what do we do about higher-income households?

@Another: True, there are a lot of places you can go on Greyhound, but also a lot of stops. I would opt for only an express, myself. (Just like with planes, I go for non-stops if at all possible. They are faster and also lower emission…)

@MP: "I'm just not your target market". I know! I think most people around here do not see a bus as a good fit. So what I’m wondering is, can we make buses a better fit, a good-enough fit? Or could we get better at taking buses? Or … what are the other options for travel on a warming planet? Is it mainly "do less of it"? FWIW, rail is not the greatest emissions-wise, and the schedules are awful. The Cabin bus service comes close in promise, but it’s no longer active. And keep in mind it will be both slow and expensive.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by eileen , a resident of another community,
on Jul 29, 2019 at 7:42 pm

I think long distance bus travel is a tough sell. Nice commuter buses are a good option. They are already here and the concept can be expanded. What about priority traffic lanes for busses only on 101 or 280. OTOH, a bus from near my house to the airport, about a 12 minute drive, takes 35 minutes with all the stops but only costs $1.00. Will I use it? Probably not.

A long time ago, the bus was the only choice if I couldn't get a ride home from college. It was always a long and rather sad trip. I think a lot of us think about buses that way. The newer busses are much nicer, but I don't think we will trade speed and convenience of planes when available for long haul trips. Yes for high speed rail! Japan and France--fabulous! China as well although I haven't used it. HSR is an easy choice over flying. While not exactly high speed, the Acela has been a big success and is a wonderful way to get between DC, NYC and Boston.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jul 30, 2019 at 9:31 am

How do you cut down on overall emissions on a warming planet? You tax carbon, period. You exempt nothing, and change behavior by changing the cost (demand curves slope downward). And to limit the impact on the poor, you return half of the carbon tax revenue as some flavor of UBI. (Put the other half into green energy infrastructure)

And how do you get me on a bus? It's really simple - you make it at least somewhat competitive time-wise with an airplane, for journeys of moderate length. This means on-time departures, on-time arrivals, dedicated lanes, minimal stops (swap drivers at rest breaks?) and ideally higher speed limits in the dedicated lanes (if the bus can legally go 90, that makes a trip down I5 to LA a lot more compelling).


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by The Magic Bus, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 30, 2019 at 12:08 pm

It depends...on the restrictions.

You cannot smoke or bring your own booze on an airline flight & I assume the same applies to a regularly scheduled travel bus.

On the other hand, a private/chartered bus offers more latitudes depending on the carrier...to vape, take bong hits etc.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 30, 2019 at 12:10 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

@eileen: Yes, you are right about rail on the east coast -- it’s very effective. I was only thinking about what we have out here today, from here to LA, which is not very practical. I do wonder, though. HSR works on the East Coast at least partly because there is decent urban density: Boston, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC. And the tracks afaik were mostly already in place. Out here we have an expensive track building problem and no urban density. We have … Bakersfield? So I wonder: is another technology a better fit for our coast, especially given the prohibitive cost? Or is the goal to establish more urban centers along the line? This article was kind of interesting in that regard...

@MP: I love your analysis and ideas. It also made me think. I wonder if the best bet is going to be a fleet of smaller self-driving (even if just on the freeway) electric vans. Very low emissions; no stops needed (or quick stops, if requested, since fewer people); no special infrastructure needed; better fit for endpoints since smaller. I am not sure about having buses hurtling down a freeway, but maybe a van is safer at higher speeds? I don’t know.

And I agree that a price signal is the best way to shift behavior, and a carbon tax is a great way to do that. Last week there were several new proposals, including one from Coons and Feinstein that starts at $15 (weak) and goes up by $15 each year (strong), and $30 if emissions targets aren’t hit (great!). That has some teeth. And 70% is returned to lower-income households, with the rest invested in clean energy infrastructure, research, etc. Not bad! But I have to look at the details, for example for exceptions as you mention. I will do a post on these taxes and options at some point -- it’s really important. Until then, if you want to better understand how to think about these taxes, I found this writeup from the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy to be helpful.

Thanks again for the great comments...


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 30, 2019 at 1:39 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Magic: I remember reading at one point that Lyft was interested in differentiating carpools. You can imagine some for quiet commuters, some for partying vacationers, etc. In that vein, if there were smaller-than-a-bus self-driving van-pools heading to LA, you could imagine differentiating the vans that are going. Maybe they'd publish a playlist ("Here is what we'll be listening to"), or how many stops, or what food/drink is on board, etc. Maybe there would be smoking and non-smoking options. Pet options? It's kind of fun to think about. Just saying that what you are saying is not completely nuts imo.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 30, 2019 at 2:00 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Hi Sherry,

Thanks for raising the issues of climate change impacts.

I have gone from the Bay Area to the LA area regularly for 50 years--long ago with family, always for work and more recently with my wife to see family.

We would never consider a bus trip. For work it turns a one day trip into long inconvenient three day exhaustion.

To see our grandchildren same thing but also they do live in LA proper as do mist SoCal residents.

As you point out the bus schedule cannot come close to competing with Southwest.

Moreover if there were many buses, the time would degrade quickly as it does on many days as I5 and 101 get clogged.

For individuals they should choose their own commitment to reducing carbon but our experience is that there are many more every day efforts to d--some of which of course require resources. We have an EV but it does not leave the garage much as we live downtown--both are expensive of course.

We have energy efficient appliances and lighting, compost and recycle though I expect some residents do even more. There is a great Cool Block program raising awareness and offering solutions.

Yet real progress will depend on what China and India do.

For the US I do agree with a previous poster that national or state policies that tax carbon are good ideas and along with promoting solar and wind power are more likely to be successful than riding the bus to LA.

I would have taken HSR though I am not sure it is now a good investment and certainly now not within the time frame needed to avert a disaster.

Thanks again for raising these issues.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 30, 2019 at 4:09 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Steve: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. And congrats on your low driving emissions. That is huge!!

You are right, there is no question that driving (whether in a car or a bus) takes longer than flying, which makes it very tough for people who have to go places and aren’t keen to spend extra hours travelling.

I also agree that people (and businesses!) need to figure out what works for them, try it, see what sticks, then try something else, etc.

To put flying emissions in perspective, one round-trip between LA and San Jose is similar to switching all of your lightbulbs back to incandescent for a year. (This is using this site for flight emissions compared with adding about 1200 kWh for downgrading from LED to incandescent lighting for a year. And we emit about 0.5 pounds CO2/kWh in California.) For an average Palo Alto household, a round-trip to LA for one person is their entire household’s electricity emissions for two months. Round-trip to New York? Eight times that (i.e., more than your household’s entire electricity emissions for the year). London? Three years. Assuming you are flying economy.

On your last point, yes, China and India matter, but our cumulative emissions dwarf theirs, our per-capita emissions dwarf theirs, and our total emissions, even now, still dwarf India’s. I just wrote a comment on this, by coincidence. Check it out here.

Thanks again for your thoughts on this. It is really hard. I don’t know how to travel long distances comfortably and quickly in a low-emission way. While we all can (and should) buy carbon offsets for flights, that is a whole other blog post...


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Railroad Guy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 30, 2019 at 5:56 pm

Why not try the train? It's a gorgeous ride down the Salinas Valley and especially on Cape Conception, right by the ocean where there's no public highway. Hint: ride in the lounge car on the west side. You wind up in the same Union Station described in this article. And you can easily connect at this end via Caltrain.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jul 30, 2019 at 7:39 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

Another great thought exercise and "could I do it" challenge from you. I find the topic of bussing very interesting...even more interesting to me is the amazing loss of bus access in and around our own community.

On recent walks with the family around Palo Alto (Downtown, Crescent Park, Old PA, and all over Midtown) we have regularly encountered rectangular patches of concrete adjacent to the streets in nearly every neighborhood. The patches sometimes connect to the sidewalks and sometimes do not. They are always near corners, and they all have ground off anchors spaced several feet apart. At first we tried to think of why these patches of "abandoned sidewalk" would be there. Finally we saw one with a bench and a sign! They were all abandoned bus stops all over Palo Alto! Dozens of them!!

What a rich network of local mass transit we must have had "back in the day"! The "last mile" problem had been solved long before the term had been coined.

Too bad we spend more and more for public transit and have lower quality service and fewer resources than we did in the past. The VTA, SAMTrans and local governments should explain how this has happened.

Perhaps a good column for the future? The old "bus grid" vs the current El Camino or nothing option.

Walk around PA yourself...you'll find these sad ghost bus stops all over town!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by neighbor, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 31, 2019 at 4:04 am

I agree with railroad guy - why no mention of Amtrak?

In the spring I took the train from here to Massachusetts. The sleeper car option is expensive, but enjoyable: food, photos, meeting people, etc. While in the Northeast I took the bus to/from Boston and New York via Peter Pan (a New England company similar to Greyhound). I was surprised by the cleanliness and professionalism of this bus travel compared to how I remembered it from college days.

Unfortunately, I flew back to California. The airplane/airport experience wasn't bad on a superficial level, but I (one passenger) created over a ton of co2 pollution by the burning of the kerosene (jet fuel). In Scandinavia there's a movement called "flygskam", or flight shame. I hope it catches on here.

Thank you Sherry!


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 31, 2019 at 7:45 am

A good question would be why don't we have buses to take us to airports?

I have used buses that leave every hour to get to airports from various suburbs in various cities around the world. These are often faster than going by car and get rid of the problem of the return trip or parking of the car that provides the ride.

I would picture buses able to do the routes between SJC and SFO by using highway 101 with stops at various ramps every 5 miles or so up and down the Peninsula. It would be much easier to "get a ride to the bus stop" at say the offramp near San Antonio. The bus could circle the airport terminals picking up and dropping off passengers. In some airports that I have used there is a central bus station with buses to various areas of the airport's catchment area.

To get to an airport from Palo Alto by public transport it takes several changes and several hours, not a good option with a flight that might take upwards of 6 hours flying time.

Getting affordable bus routes to efficiently take passengers to the airport would do a lot to help traffic on 101. We are way behind the rest in the world in not having these available.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by jean, a resident of Los Altos,
on Jul 31, 2019 at 3:32 pm

I have ridden Greyhound from Canada to Oakland. Not very nice, but cheaper than air. We only did this due to all booked up air flights one Christmas.
While traveling in Mexico we took first class buses several times. there was tv k(in Sanish of course) and I think, packed lunch. The bus was fine and much simpler than trying to drive ourselves. the key here is first class.
Also we have traveled on tours(UC Alum) in Italy, Morocco, Vietnam and others. Those busses were tops. Clean roomy and comfortable. Volvo busses I think.
I dot see why we can't have first class buses to LA, Portland, Seattle maybe Las Vegas, Reno,
It would take some real publicity to get it going and available local car rents etc.at the end


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Posted by Railroad Guy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 31, 2019 at 9:29 pm

"I agree with railroad guy - why no mention of Amtrak?"

It's redundant. Amtrak is the sole rail passenger carrier on that route.


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 1, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Railroad: I’ve heard the Coast Starlight is beautiful. If you have any pictures to share, I'd be happy to share them in this post. (There's an email link at top of the blog.)

This post is about buses, though, because they are very green and are getting more convenient-- 7-hour ride to LA, 6 departures per day for each of a few different services, low-overhead departures and arrivals. The train you mention is not particularly low-emission, is offered just once per day and takes pretty much a full day (11+ hours), leaving San Jose at 10:07am and arriving Los Angeles at 9pm.

The Coast Starlight is not particularly low emission because it is much less densely packed than a bus, takes a more circuitous route, and is still a diesel engine. So it ends up being about 3x worse than a bus. (Sorry, I don’t have a reference.) Densely packed electric commuter trains are a better bet, emissions-wise. But we don't have one to LA.

@Staying and @Resident: Great observations. There used to be airport bus service here, and apparently lots more transit. I’ll have to look for those abandoned stops! This post was more about long-haul, inter-city buses, but I’ll cover transit buses soon.

@Jean: Interesting thought on first-class buses. I’d say that Greyhound is moving somewhat in that direction -- new or upgraded buses, more legroom, wifi and onboard entertainment, more express service. They are much nicer than they used to be. So will more people ride them? I expect so, especially if fuel prices rise.

Great comments and ideas, thanks!


 +   3 people like this
Posted by LA Or Busted, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 1, 2019 at 12:40 pm

I would take Neal Cassady's bus to LA.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Bill Hough, a resident of another community,
on Aug 1, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Taking the bus is a valid option, but you do a disservice by justifying it on fear of global warming. I'll believe that global warming if a problem when the Googlers in Sicily start acting if it is a problem.

Currently, either they don't believe climate change is the big problem they keep saying it is, or they just don't care enough about saving the planet to give up their perks.
Web Link


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Just Take The Bus, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Aug 1, 2019 at 3:11 pm

> I would take Neal Cassady's bus to LA.

Me too but 1/2+ of the folks here wouldn't even know who Neal Cassady was or the Merry Pranksters.

The bus & its travelers probably wouldn't get past King City before getting arrested! *L*




 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 1, 2019 at 3:55 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@LA, @Just: You're in luck! They are restoring it. Donate enough money (or mechanical skillz?) and I bet you're in.

@Bill: I love the topic of eco-hypocrisy, and will cover it one of these days. Or maybe you can do it for me :) Keep sharing links! In the meantime, do consider if what you are seeing is hypocrisy or imperfection. I have no idea which it is in this case. But FWIW almost everyone I know who is serious about climate is making changes incrementally. Maybe you see someone flying, but they have already halved their flying this year. Or given up their gas car(s). Or gone vegan. Or donated a million bucks to environmental research. If they are committed to making and sustaining big changes each year, then I don't at all begrudge them a flight or two.

I don't want to make excuses for people. But I don't think it's fair to point at anyone who flies and cares about climate and call them a hypocrite. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it is not a winning strategy...


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Steve Ly, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 1, 2019 at 9:14 pm

It's one thing for robber barons to have a party, and fine if they do. It's quite another if they want to lecture us on global warming as its purported purpose " like, maybe they can't get the celebs to come otherwise.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Bill Hough, a resident of another community,
on Aug 2, 2019 at 7:30 am

Sherry Listgarten wrote: "But I don't think it's fair to point at anyone who flies and cares about climate and call them a hypocrite."

If someone flies commercial down to LA once and a while, no big deal, but it is sure off-putting when mega-millionaires fly private jete to Sicily to pontificate that we should give up plastic straws because global warming.

As reported here Web Link "'Wow ... if it's so bad, why did all the Google execs, rich folks & celebrities fly 114 private jets, yachts, & limos to the climate change summit in Italy? Hypocrisy? Climate hoax?' asked another social media user."


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 2, 2019 at 11:42 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Bill: "It sure is off-putting"

I think that's fair.

Climate change is particularly difficult in that it exacerbates social inequality. The people who contribute most to the problem (typically the wealthiest) are generally the ones who will be impacted the least. So it can breed a lot of resentment.

A question I have is, do we move forward by finger pointing? Because there are a lot of fingers to be pointed, most of them at us.


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Posted by Sports, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 2, 2019 at 11:48 am

Serious suggestion

How about getting the west coast sport teams to start using luxury buses to get from Bay Area to LA Area?

I have no idea how many times Bay Area teams play LA Area teams each year and vv, talking all major sports at the professional and college levels, I suspect many charter planes to fly. Get them to make a dent in their carbon footprints by chartering buses instead. Then we might get more people taking note.


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 3, 2019 at 10:44 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Sports: I think it's a great idea to have more visible people demonstrating ways in which they are reducing emissions. I would love to start with the President, Senators, Secretary of Interior, etc. They could talk about changes they (and their staffs) are making and demonstrate it. It would make a big difference. And, as you point out, athletes, actors, etc, could do that as well. They are even more visible. I would like for it to be everyday people as well. Maybe our local city councils members? It'd be fun to do a blog post on that...


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Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 3, 2019 at 2:59 pm

There are definitely some interesting ideas floating around here. There are also some clear non-starters.

Amtrak - This takes twice as long as driving, is frequently late due to a shared single track with freight, and is more expensive than Southwest. It's a hard no all around. I'd take a viable train (at least as fast as driving, ideally electrified so we aren't burning tons of diesel) but Amtrak is not a viable train. It doesn't have to be the full HSR but it at least needs to be competitive with driving.

Smaller electric self-driving-ish vehicles: This could be viable but could also be a real safety issue since there is no driver / attendant. Some basic enforcement of etiquette is critical - a smaller vehicle means you really need UberPool rules - pretend nobody else is there, put on your headphones, and enjoy your movie / audiobook or the scenery or take a nap or whatever. Might be able to do this with some form of remote monitoring?

Speeds and enticing people onto buses - how about a separated bus lane (BRT style) for as much of the run as you can manage? How much would BRT change the carbon footprint? Particularly towards the Bay Area and LA ends, where traffic tends to be a problem, BRT would be a huge incentive to take the bus. You're making the bus a better tradeoff time-wise than driving, or at least making up for some of the stops along the way that you might be stuck with. (BRT in the middle might let you get speeds up as well by limiting interference with cars - you could safely go faster if the lane is nothing but professionally driven buses with some reasonable standard separation between them)

Assume people are economically rational - if things take the same amount of time end to end, people will chose by cost. If things cost the same, people will pick the faster option.

The other issue is mobility at the other end - if you take a bus to greater LA, you probably need to rent a car at the other end. Puiblic transit will get you some places, but likely won't go where you want to go. Bus stations tend to not be near rental car facilities - some sort of partnership would help there. If you drive you have your car, if you fly the airport has rental cars. Uber/Lyft are of course an option, but may or may not work depending how far you're planning to drive once there.




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Posted by Sports, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 4, 2019 at 8:53 am

Sherry, My point is that getting some sports teams, Giants, etc. committing to travel by charter bus rather than charter plane to say their Dodgers games would be much more visible than getting a group of 25 nobodies to do so. Good luck at getting politicians to travel across the country, although maybe California governor could hire a bus rather than a plane to get across the State.

People will take more note of a supposedly role model making a change than anyone else. Culture changes are driven by those in the public eye. Get the Kardashians to go by bus and then tweet about it and the whole world will hear.


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 4, 2019 at 9:41 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Yes, I agree, it's a great idea. I remember reading this article on actors leading the charge on climate change a while ago, and wondering why they are all so old. WDYT?


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Posted by Robert Neff, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 4, 2019 at 10:46 pm

Robert Neff is a registered user.

My son rode greyhound a lot from North Hollywood to San Jose when he was a student at UCLA, 2010 to 2014. I think he took Megabus, too. Cheap, and he could take an overnight trip which seemed to fit his sometimes tight weekend schedule.

Thanks for the stats on carbon footprint. Have you figured out how a long distance Amtrak train compares?


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 6, 2019 at 10:23 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@robert -- That's great that the bus worked for your son! I hope with the newer, more comfortable buses that even more people will see a fit. We'll see!

The Amtrak trains are generally much less efficient than buses. They are lower capacity by design and they take more circuitous routes. There is a specific example here that someone worked out for a particular trip, if you are interested.


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Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 8, 2019 at 9:08 am

Interesting comparison. Some observations:

The train is really hurt by the combination of outdated infrastructure (diesel) and circuitous routing. How would it look electrified? Or ideally electrified and given a more direct routing?

You can really move the needle if you tweak the occupancy. If you put 4 people in a car instead of 2.2, cars become a lot more competitive. This is a really good argument for thinking about not just distance, but utilization - a family of 4 or 5 makes for a very different set of tradeoffs than a solo traveler.

Also, in their graphic electric cars beat even the bus, but it's unclear if they are looking at full lifecycle emissions (manufacturing to disposal) or just single trip operating emissions (more likely). Lifecycle emissions often turn up hidden sources of significant carbon emissions, and should not be ignored.


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 8, 2019 at 7:39 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@MP I agree, occupancy is key. I expect that the Acela is a good example of a low-emission train, since it is well used, electric, and not particularly circuitous. But I can't find good estimates for it, let alone lifecycle estimates, which you ask about. I did see an article citing a 2010 UC Berkeley study that said that building HSR would generate emissions that would take 71 years of operation just to offset (at medium occupancy). Yikes. (I caveat this by saying the organization represented by that article has a fraught relationship with climate change, so I would want to look more into this.) At any rate, I think most buses are a better bet than most trains at this point! And, more generally, carpooling.

Thanks for the great observations.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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