Cabin Sleep Bus is in Hibernation

Sold as a way to sleep away the journey between LA and SF, the 'Cabin' sleep bus crashed into the bumpy realities of rubber tires on asphalt

The Cabin Bus, 6 a.m., Santa Monica. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The Cabin Bus, 6 a.m., Santa Monica. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

It’s like a “Ritz Carlton on wheels,” went the chipper reports a year ago on the launch of Cabin, a bus service–previously branded as ‘Sleep Bus’–that runs overnight between Santa Monica and San Francisco. The tech press seemed enthusiastic about sleeping the journey away on a bus full of bed racks.

Streetsblog tried the bus out in 2017 and wanted to believe. But after a night of a vibrating diesel engine, swaying back and forth, and bumping down Interstate 5, the conclusion was this isn’t a hotel on wheels. Shockingly, it’s a bumpy, noisy bus with shelves instead of seats.

Well, Streetsblog wasn’t alone. Below is the pop-up window that now appears if one tries to book travel on the bus:

CabinBumpTechFrom a Medium post by the company’s CEO, Gaetano Crupi:

As a direct response to our invaluable guest feedback, our team has spent the better part of the last year developing a bump-canceling technology we call Cabin Cloud (which you can read more about in Wired & Mashable). We can now eliminate 80–90% of the bumpiness you feel on the road, making US highways feel smoother than trains.

Now it’s time to move out of the lab.

We are thrilled to announce that starting on November 1st we will begin upgrading our vehicles with our new Cabin Cloud suspension and will also be tripling our fleet size in the new year!

This means that every single bed in our vehicles will be outfitted with our patent-pending, snooze-inducing tech. Soon, just about anyone will be able to get a dreamy night’s sleep while on a moving vehicle.

Mashable’s story reports that the bed suspension system kind of works–the writer tried out a prototype on a demonstration run on a craggy part of 101. Crupi writes that “Cabin Cloud feels like a Highway Train.”

It seems impossible that Crupi has created a bus (or a bed on a suspension inside a bus) that rides as smoothly as a train. No amount of engineering is going to change the fact that if the bus driver has to make a sudden lane change, the motion is going to shake everyone awake. Nor is it going to change the fact that roads are built with steeper grades and tighter turns, especially on ramps, that will still make the bus sway and tilt more than any bed-suspension can compensate for. And then there’s the jostling produced by stop-and-go traffic, which also makes arrival times unpredictable. Furthermore, the diesel engine in the bus vibrates and makes noise.

On a train, the engine is in a completely separate unit–the locomotive–and therefore all the vibration and most of the noise is isolated from the passengers. If the train is electric, the propulsion system is basically silent. Steel-wheels-on-steel-rails are inherently more stable than tires-on-asphalt, which is why even the shakiest train is smoother than a bus.

To illustrate, this video was shot on a Chinese high-speed train (of course, there aren’t any tracks currently in the US that are nearly this precise):

Try that on a bus.

Plus trains don’t get stuck in traffic, which makes arrival times more predictable.

As Streetsblog has previously reported, there used to be a sleeper train between Los Angeles and San Francisco called “The Lark.”  Brightline-Virgin, the for-profit operator of rail services in Florida and the U.K., is working on a project to re-establish passenger rail service between LA and Las Vegas. If that ever gets going, maybe some day they’ll take a look at an overnight train service between California’s two biggest regions? We’ve got a call in to Brightline-Virgin to see what they think.

In the meantime, if the “Cabin Cloud” tech ever really makes it into service, which the web page says will happen early this year (we have an email out to see if they have a more exact date) we’ll give it another go and report back.

  • jonobate

    I was just looking at Cabin – considering taking the sleeper bus to Santa Monica, riding my bike down to San Diego, then returning to SF on the Pacific Surfliner/Coast Starlight. Sounds like a great weekend, but I need some convincing that I’d actually be able to get a good night’s sleep before attempting a ride of that magnitude.

  • Andy Chow

    At least the company is trying to innovate with existing infrastructure and regulatory regime. Theres no doubt that train is better, but except that theres no overnight trains and the closet alternative requires a train to bus transfer in the wee hours in Bakersfield. Railroad companies wont allow more passenger trains without a lot more money. HSR is running out of money with prospect of completing the line frim BA to LA.

  • John French

    Why is there no sleeper train? The Coast Starlight unfortunately runs between Oakland and LA during the daytime.

    Bring back the Coast Daylight, and add a non-luxury sleeper class (shared rooms or open bunks) so people can actually afford a sleeper ticket. The trip takes 12 hours: you’d board in Oakland at 8pm, eat dinner, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up just in time to arrive in LA at 8am.

  • John French

    “even the shakiest train is smoother than a bus”? Someone hasn’t ridden Caltrain’s Gallery fleet recently!

    (The older Caltrain gallery cars have ridiculously-firm suspension. I read that this was due to concerns about clearance in the tunnels south of Bayshore – if the train rocked too much it might hit the tunnel wall, so they just firmed up the suspension to stop that happening. The newer Bombardier cars have a smooth ride like any modern train.)

  • thielges

    I’d gladly use a SJ to LA sleeper train though unfortunately there’s no sponsor willing to support such an additional service. Amtrak is barely holding on to the minimal service that they have today. Such a “night only” service would not attract the recreational sightseer customers that the current Coast Starlight attracts. A night train would be mostly for practical everyday use and most travelers between NorCal and SoCal are OK with either driving or flying.

  • Paul Gracey

    I rode the Lark way back in 1961 when the U.S. Navy used it to send me to “A” school on Treasure Island. It had achieved notoriety among train enthusiasts as “the Lurch” and was considered a “Milk Train” for the number of stops it would make. It was at least an hour late on every schedule as it followed freight trains which in those days would drop off cars on industrial sidings along the way, doing so at night so as not to impede the Daylight which still had a passenger service reputation to uphold. Union Station in LA was ghostly empty at the time we left.

  • LazyReader

    Oh no, well it’s not like the cost of Cabin Sleep is gonna reflect on the taxpayer, unlike Caltrains, California high speed rail and various other transit projects of dubious value whose costs have spiraled out of control. China’s high speed trains may be smooth, but they aren’t financialy sustainable. As of March 2018, China railway’s debt stood at 5 trillion Yuan (734 Billion dollars). 80% of the company’s debt burden is related to HSR construction and the debt will exceed 8 Trillion Yuan (1.1 Trillion dollars USD) by 2020. https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/China-pays-a-high-price-for-world-s-fastest-train

  • KJ

    I think a sleeper train would be cost effective for many as you would not need a hotel room, but it would need to be Euro-style bunks to make it cheaper. Amtrak beds are expensive.

  • David

    Amtrak California (note: not the same as Amtrak) currently runs 2 overnight services between the Bay Area and LA. One operates via a bus/train transfer in Bakersfield, and the other operates via a bus/train transfer in Santa Barbara. There are also overnight Megabus, Flixbus, and Greyhound services, and until recently there was Bolt Bus as well. So there would certainly be enough demand to justify rail service that doesn’t require an early morning vehicle transfer. Provide affordable sleeper accommodations and Amtrak would have a popular service!

  • thielges

    If you think Caltrain has dubious value then imagine what 101 would be like with those 65,000 Caltrain riders in 60,000 cars.

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