Luxury commuter buses come to San Francisco

It's referred to as a "lounge on wheels."

Leap is a start-up which is trying to redefine mass transit in San Francisco. The company operates five buses that ferry commuters to and from work in the City by the Bay.

But these are no ordinary buses. They resemble hip coffee shops, with bar stools, free Wi-Fi and snacks like Greek yogurt and Blue Bottle Coffee.

A Leap bus in San Francisco.
Leap
A Leap bus in San Francisco.

Kyle Kirchhoff, Leap's CEO, says he wants commuters, when they're riding in his buses, to feel like they're relaxing in their very own living rooms.

"We want people to sit back, read a book, work on a laptop, or maybe even meet one of their neighbors," Kirchhoff told CNBC.

The service is designed to be easy to use: Sign up, find a bus on the map—either by downloading the app or signing in from the Leap website—and then hop on and scan a QR (quick response) code.

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The cost? $6 for a single ride, or $5 if users buy a pack of 20 rides.

A Leap bus is available every 15 minutes or less. Currently, the company runs just one route, from the Marina district to the financial district, but plans on expanding as quickly as possible.

Some of the best and brightest in Silicon Valley believe Leap is a smart investment. The company already has raised $2.5 million from Andreessen Horowitz as well as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, among others.

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Kirchhoff would not say how much it costs to build the buses, or run the fleet, but no doubt it's expensive.

"We're always going to have to keep raising money, especially in a capital intensive business like this," he said.

Commuters say it's a pleasant and efficient way to get to the office.

"It's comfortable and, price-wise, it's in-between public transportation or taking a private car so you don't feel as guilty about doing it," said Sean Safahi, a Leap passenger.

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Leap is entering an increasingly competitive market, however. There are other options for commuters like UberPool, Lyft Line and a start-up shuttle service called Chariot, which began last April.

Chariot has already provided 75,000 rides to customers. The company offers simpler accommodations and perks relative to Leap, but it's also cheaper at about $4 per ride.

"Customers tell us that speed, reliability and affordability is key," said Chariot's CEO, Ali Vahabzadeh. "That's what they're looking for in a commute."

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Just this week, Chariot launched a crowdsourcing platform. The idea is that if enough commuters highlight a new route they'd like to see established, the company will commit to creating it.

Currently, Chariot operates four routes in San Francisco, two of which are already profitable, according to Vahabzdeh.

For now, most residents still depend on the city's public transit system, which serves 700,000 people every day. Still, both Leap and Chariot are attracting fans, and hope to expand beyond San Francisco.

"This is a radically different way to get to work," said Kirchhoff.