When it comes to traveling from Los Angeles to places like Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Phoenix and San Diego, trains, planes and automobiles are the usual go-tos.
But a new company plans to disrupt that kind of thinking with a different kind of bus service -- one that connects L.A. to nearby cities using brand-new motor coaches equipped with WiFi, outlets at every seat and on-board entertainment.
"The way we approach the market, we don't even see ourselves as a bus company. We are really a new mobility option," says Pierre Gourdain, general manager of FlixBus US, headquartered here in L.A. He was speaking from on-board a brand-new FlixBus wrapped in its signature lime green, headed for one of its target markets – Las Vegas.
Eventually tickets between LA and Sin City will cost about $25, but they can be had right now for as little as $3. Gourdain says the company is choosing to launch with low prices and word of mouth rather than traditional advertising.
"We aim to be cheaper than using your own car and gas."
FlixBus started selling tickets yesterday and will begin running buses between L.A. and San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Palm Springs and a handful of other cities on May 31. This summer it plans to expand with routes to San Francisco, Sacramento and the central valley.
"This is a major development in intercity bus travel," says Joseph Schwieterman. A bus transportation expert with DePaul University in Chicago, he researches the most heavily traveled – and underserved – ground transportation routes in the country. L.A. to Phoenix ranks first – with 2.5 million trips annually, few of which are taken by bus.
More than 4 million trips are taken between L.A. and Las Vegas each year. How people get there is about evenly split between car and plane, Schwieterman says.
"We had a boom in travel ten years ago, but things have tapered off with fuel prices coming down and air travel intensifying," he says.
Which is why most people drive or fly. Greyhound and other bus lines linking major metropolitan areas, well, they just haven't made themselves alluring on any metric except for price.
Enter FlixBus. Instead of having pickups and drop-offs in one specific location at each end of a trip, the company scatters them around L.A., from Union Station and USC downtown to Santa Monica, Culver City and UCLA on the west side – even Long Beach and Anaheim. Eventually the plan is to have more than 20 stops.
And up to 12 departure times per route per day.
FlixBus doesn't own any of the buses. It partners with regional bus partners. For its L.A. launch, it has partnered with six local bus companies, including Transportation Charter Service in Orange.
"The FlixBus model allows us to focus on the daily operation of our buses -- something we have over 30 years of experience doing -- and puts the technology and marketing in the hands of the experts at FlixBus," said Terry Fischer, President of Transportation Charter Services.
It's the technology, new buses and uniformed drivers that makes the service so attractive, Schwieterman says.
"What's notable about FlixBus is they're a brand-new model to the U.S…. when people want to travel by bus… it's a slick all-purpose carrier that can get them there inexpensively with real high service standards," Schweiterman says.
Flix Bus started in Germany five years ago and now dominates the inter-city bus market throughout Europe. It carried 30 million passengers in 2016 in 26 different countries, from Austria to Denmark to Sweden. In its home market of Germany, FlixBus accounts for 90 percent of all long-haul bus service.
A high-tech startup fused with old-school transportation, FlixBus is accessed through an app or a web site, both of which let travelers book and pay for tickets, track their bus — even get notifications if their ride is running late.
"Today's travelers are really discriminating," Schwieterman says. "They want predictability. They want to feel like they're surrounded by people who are like them.
FlixBus is targeting two main groups. People without a lot of money. That means you, UCLA and USC students. Also, people with a lot of time – so seniors. But Flixbus
"We see this service as catering to everyone," says Pierre Gourdain of FlixBus.
Because times are changing, even here in car-oriented L.A.
"There is a very strong trend that we see people just don't want to drive anymore… one reason is traffic," Gourdain says. "We see Los Angeles as the test bed for transportation tomorrow in the U.S."
Which is why FlixBus is here, hoping to do for SoCal city-to-city bus travel what Uber and Lyft have done for getting around town. Without a personal vehicle.