A friend told me about Megabus, a new service that has come to Sacramento. It currently has runs from Sacramento to San Francisco and a limited number of other cities. It is an express service - so for example you get on in old Sacramento and end up at the Cal Train station in SF. The trip is about 1:45 - based on my experience over the last couple of years, that is, on average, faster than I could drive it. In the evening when I return - the bus will be able to use the Carpool lanes which I cannot when I am driving.
The bus I rode on was clean with two decks. The upper deck gives you an interesting perspective on the road ahead and the scenery. There was plenty of room. Unlike first class busses in Mexico, there is no meal service and no TV screen (which on longer trips has movies). But also unlike Mexico, there is no assigned seating. On the bus I rode the WIFI was non-functional - I ended up using my 4G on my iPad - I could get a signal but could not connect. A common complaint on Yelp is that the WIFI is iffy - . More important than that is the pricing system. Pricing is demand and time based - so as you get closer to the actual time of the bus the price goes up. If you are lucky, the price can be as low as $2 round trip. I ended up paying $9 which is about what I would have paid in tolls. The price about four hours out from the trip has risen to $6 one way - which would still represent a substantial savings over driving or Amtrak.
There are a couple of other considerations. One could park in the Amtrak lot and walk over for $9 per day but I chose to move a bit closer so will end up paying $23 for the day in Old Sacramento. But even with that when you consider the cost of gas, tolls and parking in San Francisco, the price comparison is still stunning. When you get to SF you need to walk or cab it - but the tradeoff is not worrying about where to stash your car. As I was waiting this morning one of the passengers who was going to the Asian Art Museum said that he had heard that SF has 5500 fewer parking spots than the number of registered vehicles in the city. That could well be true.
The trip from downtown LA to SF (it does not go to Sacramento) is seven and a half hours and costs $26 - so still quite reasonable. The price from DC to NYC is $32 and takes about four and a half hours. Again much cheaper than Amtrak.
The differences with Amtrak, based on this experience, are clear. This is considerably cheaper, with less hassle to get into the city (on Amtrak you need to transfer to BART at Richmond or take the Amtrak bus into the city) although it does not have cocktails. From my experience with Amtrak it also seems to be more likely on schedule.
This is a very good new service - they have a couple of options a day on this trip including one which gets you back to Sacramento by 9 PM. From the website it looks like they are rolling out new destinations but assuming that this service becomes profitable it could be very useful.