Burner Express Impressions

Bikes, trikes, personal mobility and getting to/from the event - this is the place to discuss general transportation issues.
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spacetime
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Burner Express Impressions

Post by spacetime » Tue Sep 02, 2014 12:12 pm

This was their second year operating BxB, and my first time riding it.

I have a bunch of feedback, which I'll be providing and am happy to post some of in this thread. But I was curious if other BxB'ers have anything to share.

How did it go logistically for people? How was the value overall?

fsckdevhdb
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by fsckdevhdb » Wed Sep 10, 2014 10:52 pm

value is ok I think.

the cons of bxb:
- getting your stuff on the bus (need a hotel with a shuttle to the airport)
- getting your stuff from the playa depot to your camp, and from camp to depot after

next time I'm going to rent a box truck, as it is less hassle.

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Ratty
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by Ratty » Thu Sep 11, 2014 12:24 am

Hi Spacetime. As you know I didn't ride the bus but I did 'greet' at the bus stop on Sunday. The 18 or 19 buses were all supposed to be there by 10 pm. Less than half had arrived by that time. The people were very happy with the ride but evidently had too short of a time to do their shopping. (They didn't allow the hour as promised.) The luggage was always way behind the bus and it should have arrived first. The bus had to stop in Gerlach due to a Ticketfly glitch. The trucks should have come straight through and beat the bus there. The shuttle only went down Gold St. so it was a major issue when those travelers were let out on G street with 100 or more pounds of food, water, gear etc... They had no way to transport their stuff to whatever camp they were staying in. It was sad. We had no solutions for them. If they had a bike it was even more complicated. Bikes can't go on the shuttle bus so you can come back later, (by foot), and get it or ride along and hope you keep up with the bus. All of this in the dark. Just imagine if this was your first time in the city. I get lost during the day. Plus things disappeared from the storage compartments and luggage truck. "Where's my suitcases, case of beer, bottled water"? It needs some work.
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unjonharley
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by unjonharley » Thu Sep 11, 2014 8:00 am

I have been waiting for a thread on this clusterfuck,,,Over
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some seeing eye
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by some seeing eye » Thu Sep 11, 2014 8:17 am

The BMORG rarely reads ePlaya.

People who used Burner Express can and should send feedback positive or negative to http://www.burningman.com/participate/f ... _2014.html. The service will expand and wants to improve with your help.
increasing the signal to noise ratio with compassion

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unjonharley
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by unjonharley » Thu Sep 11, 2014 8:25 am

us bystanders want to know, how it went too..
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spacetime
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by spacetime » Thu Sep 11, 2014 10:37 am

Thanks ratty and others. I have a bunch of photos and complete impressions on this, I have been working through my individual experiences and I have a good deal of info to share on BxB. I think I'll have it up by next week.

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Lonesomebri
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by Lonesomebri » Thu Sep 11, 2014 11:18 am

The camp I was connected to kind of catered to Burner Express people. At first I was kinda against the whole idea of new people with not enough gear coming in on a bus, how they would contribute to the city. The camp also had some of us repeat costumers. I don't have any first hand knowledge of the travails of those people on the bus, but interesting enough, I enjoyed the new peoples contribution to the Burn more than the veterans who had come in on the bus. I spent some time down at the depot picking up people with my chariot, and once mentioned to some folks waiting from Tuna Camp that I was there to pick up some of the camps "clients". Ha, there were no friends of the Plug and Plays under that shade shelter that day. They quizzed me about fees and what was provided by the camp. I should have just invited them over and they could see the deprivation I was living in. I still don't think someone could come in on the bus without inside people and "bring it", but the ones I met, who had planned around that and hooked up with camps or individuals on the playa, brought enough of their spirit and willingness to make me glad they had taken the bus and were there.
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Popeye
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by Popeye » Fri Sep 12, 2014 9:57 pm

I rode the bus in 13 and 14 and did not see any major problems either year. This year it was late leaving Reno, check in line was long and slow and the Sunday noon bus left about 4, not sure why. The BE provided shade structure was surrounded cheek by jowl with pup tents at the beginning of the week but seemed to spread out by Wednesday. I walked down the street and camped 10 minutes away.
Exodus on the bus went well, the few luggage problems seemed to come from people who did not think they needed to follow instructions or where not able to think. Recycle and trash went ok and bikes could be donated.
I think the bus works best for two or more people camping together who can split up the shade, art, etc. that they bring or those joining a large camp who do not have to pack anything but personal items.
If you planned, thought it through and read Eplaya you should have done ok, even camping alone on your first year.
I did have to repack and purchase in Reno, two 50 pounders and carry on for the plane and four bags weighing god knows how much for the bus plus a bike. But then I would have had to do this if I rented a car.
Good value and as riders increase we will have regular riders coming every year.
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spacetime
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by spacetime » Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:05 pm

Ok, time to deliver on OP! I took Burner Express (BxB) in as my transportation solution from San Francisco this year and wanted to share the experience for people considering it for 2015 and beyond.

Introduction
This overview is written from the perspective of one person attending Burning Man for the first time, camping solo for seven days. This choice of experience meant details around transportation and packing were very important to maintaining self-reliance.

I paid close attention to not only my packing, but the steps necessary in getting my body and belongings where they needed to be to get the most out of Burning Man.

BxB is only in its second year, so much could change for 2015. But regardless, my hope is this information helps set expectations of first-time riders better and makes other folks’ next year easier.

TL;DR Short and Skinny
  1. Burner Express is a bus service operated by the Burning Man organization that critically gets your body and limited amount of equipment from Reno or San Francisco to Black Rock City.
  2. Burner Express s not a luxury transportation option, a plug and play experience for first time burners or an approximate alternative to your friend’s car with extra room. It is more like a crazy version of riding Greyhound. It is not for everyone. You are guaranteed an experience but not necessarily a smooth or completely comfortable one.
Before the Burn
Reservations are done online, ticketing in 2014 was $200 round trip. $50 more if you wanted to also transport a bike. Ticketing for BxB quietly ends a full week before the start of the burn. Even though I had clear plans to use BxB, I nearly forgot to register in time.

If you’re hurriedly preparing for Burning Man and plan to take BxB, get your reservation and payment done early so you can focus on other things.

Luggage restrictions are serious and the most important part of your preparation. Coming from SF, each rider may have only two “large suitcases” worth of gear. Each piece may not exceed 62 linear inches. That is length + width + depth. This includes your food and water. You do get one “carry-on” which must fit “between your legs” on the bus.

Example Burner Express compatible Pack for Solo Full Week
I will expose more of my packing process and choices in my planned “Birgins guide to full week solo camp.” But I wanted to show that it is challenging but possible to pack “everything” you need to win Burning Man and have it fit within the luggage restrictions.

Here’s how it can be done:
  • One of your pieces of luggage is a large suitcase. Laying down, the suitcase should be about 27” long, 20” wide and in its expanded state about 14” tall. This massively packed suitcase will contain almost all your gear and will use up just about all 62 linear inches if packed right. It will be very heavy.
  • Your other piece of luggage will be water carriers strapped to camping equipment. I highly recommend a pair of the blue Coleman 5 gallon BLU Water Carriers, which when strapped together take up 20” x 13” x 10” or about 43 linear inches. This leaves nearly 20 more inches for camping equipment!
  • Your carry-on will be a sizeable backpack / camelbak that is your pack for the week. I used a Camelbak miltac HAWG and was very pleased.
  • A hand cart. Yes, you must plan to have a handcart to move your water and camping supplies luggage item. You will not be able to carry 20+ gallons of water, so do not try.
My two pieces of luggage together. Note the water containers are not filled in this photo
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I will not go into detail on my pack in this post, but suffice it to say you will need to be organized. If you spend enough time organizing you will be able to fit:
  • A 2 person tent
  • 12’x 12’ shade tarp with tarp poles
  • Enough food for the week
  • Proper survival equipment (i.e. clothing, goggles, wet wipes)
  • A few compact costumes
  • Camp decour including Solar lights
You will probably will not be able to fit:
  • A cooler
  • A grey water tub / system
  • Beer
I recommend coordinating with someone to bring a cooler in for you. Also, minimizing grey water creation by leveraging wet wipes for sanitation. (i.e. teeth brushing spit only). Beer may possibly be acquired at a rest stop.

In actuality, what departure pack looked like.
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Note, only a camping chair went beyond restrictions and I had planned to leave it with my neighbor dropping me off if necessary. My sleeping bag attached to my carry on bag "between my legs."

A unknown problem at the time was I had loose items. Do not have loose items. Everything should strap securely to either one of the luggage pieces or to your pack. This is critical because arrival may be chaotic. See Arrival below.

Regarding your Bicycle
Anyone will tell you that having a bicycle at Burning Man is very important. Burner Express does offer a Bike transportation. I chose not to use this, but instead to send my bike in with Playa Bike Repair (PBR) (I paid same price as Burner Express, $50)

This turned out to be a great choice because arrival and departure with two large luggage items is challenging.

I recommend reducing the scope of concern on arrival by shipping your bike separately, weeks prior to departure if possible. Arrange with PBR or someone else, so you can make retrieving your bike after you’ve set up your camp a great first mission across BRC.

Day of Departure from San Francisco
I chose the 10am Sunday morning departure from San Francisco. I live south of the city, and had a neighbor drop me off with my stuff. The BxB website says you can also use BART. I think this is a silly and impractical suggestion. I highly recommend a neighbor, Lyft, then UberX in that order for getting to BxB departure.

I was surprised at the large number of people waiting when I arrived at 9am. It was a bit disorganized, with hundreds of people and their luggage sprawled out in front of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

It looked a lot like the start of OMSI summer camp, and It being my first burn was actually nervous to get out of my neighbor’s car and join the herd.

Shot of the Crowd Waiting for Departure
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Shot of the Bike trucks across the street from where Buses pick you up.
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I recommend packing a lunch and dinner in your carry-on, so you can make better use of the rest stop.

Check In
Once you get your crap onto a spot on the sidewalk, you will need to find a Burner Express workers that is carrying a clipboard and a hand stamp. They “check” you in. These folks did not give off a super-organized vibe, but they are relaxed and reassuring.

Although the BxB website says it will happen at check in, I did not have my luggage inspected for its size compliance. However, size does matter, because I found out on return that one completely full bus uses up the entire cargo area.

If you go over luggage amounts, you will cause the bus to not be able to load. If BxB is using the honor system, I think that makes you dishonorable for going over the size restrictions. So don’t do it! Pack like you’re going to be inspected by a hardass and you won’t have to worry about leaving stuff on the sidewalk.

Once checked in, this is a good time to try and relax, if you packed right you should be good to go. I introduced myself to a few people and made small talk mostly about packing and day-of prep. Although your mileage may vary, I didn’t worry getting to know people at this stage. I assumed I would probably not see or remember I had met people sitting on the sidewalk in BRC. Note: this proved true for people you travel on the bus with as well.

Eventually, 4-6 buses showed up with people slowly but surely loading their equipment into the cargo portion of the bus. Lots of people crowded to get on the first few buses. I chose to lay back and catch bus five.

I’m not one to line up for an Airplane boarding, but I recommend trying to load onto the first bus you can. The buses leave once packed and even 20-30 minutes earlier departure over the course of an 8-12 hour trip may make a difference because they also go through ticketing / will call first!

On the Bus
Our bus had a bit of a party vibe to it. People relaxed and imbibed some. I sat toward the back, and someone used about 4-5 hours of battery on a Bluetooth speaker to provide some house music.

I had planned to sleep as much as possible, (my nights leading up to departure were late), so I opted out of the socialization and put in my sleeping earplugs. This worked pretty well, it is a long bus ride, so you will have plenty of time to meet and talk with people.

People making riding BxB a social experience
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Some people were partying like they were already at camp, and I do not recommend this. You will want to have your wits about you on arrival. Also, if you’re going a full week you will need to pace yourself anyway. When I turned down some Fireball, explaining my desire to pace myself one of the other riders was like, “Common, it’s Burning Man.” My silent reply was “Actually, it is a bus ride.” But whatever, burn your own way.

I sat toward the back of the bus, but recommend you stay toward the middle or even front to avoid the bathroom which may start to stink by time you arrive. You will not want to sleep and eat next to a stinky bus bathroom.

Rest Stop
The Burner Express website explicitly says there will not be a “shop” stop from San Francisco. This is to your advantage because anything bought from a store en-route is going to have tons of packaging and create loose items to handle at arrival. You want to know exactly what you’re going in with and handling at Exodus before you leave San Francisco or Reno on BxB.

That said, our bus stopped at a gas station / fast food area. This is kind of an opportunity to bust through the luggage limits, particularly for Beer. The gas station sold many different kinds of beer (albeit overpriced!). I picked up a 24 pack of cheap beer and a few six packs of premium bottled beer. I recommend having cash set aside for this.

This created loose items to manage at arrival, so I would recommend you pre-plan with an empty sturdy light bag that lets you strap or otherwise manage beer acquired at the rest stop. However, you will have cold beer to drink on the bus and share. You will also have beer at BRC, and provided you coordinated to have a cooler brought in (thank you, dear sweet Ratty) you will have cold beer all week. Yes, it can be done!

You will have plenty to time to get your beer and store it in the overhead container on the bus if you eat your day lunch on the bus before the rest stop. You can also get rid of moop from your day pack!

The Highway
2014 had a marked increase of people coming in on Sunday, which caused a big backup on the paved road headed toward Gerlach. The backup was mostly a standstill for about 3-4 hours. This meant that our entire bus full of people got on and off the bus multiple times--perhaps 5 times in total.

Hanging beside the bus and highway, people took photos, emptied their bladders, hung out with our driver and otherwise listened to music on someone's speaker. In the bus, on the highway, it started to get hot, though and the bus on the way in had only 1/2 working air conditioning.
People congregating to get back on bus.
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I believe that this backup was caused almost entirely by an “RV Gas station” / tourist trap setup on the outskirts of Gerlach. This was the area that was selling those fancy-looking ATV dust masks. It had a local cop car parked there, which seemed to offer it some legitimacy.

It seemed to me that this small commercial encampment was a way for locals to make a bit more money off Burners but really just royally screwed up traffic.

One of my biggest recommendations is that BMORG work with Gerlach to remove this little business turnout. Traffic cleared immediately after it.

A nice stretch of traffic
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Gerlach Stop and Will Call
Thanks in part to delays from the above mentioned RV Gas Station, we got into Gerlach quite late, around 8:45pm. Keep in mind we left SF at about 11am. That’s a 9 hour trip that can be 6 hours without traffic. Plan your day pack and frustration tolerance accordingly!

This was the first spot where I felt Burner Express arrival was not planned properly. Apparently, all the Reno buses and SF buses arrived in Gerlach around the same time, despite leaving their origins at different times.

At first our bus was told we would have to wait in our seats but it would be only 30 minutes. We were told we would be ticketed on the bus, which would allow us to continue more quickly toward BRC.
People milling around BxB busses at Gerlach
Image
This was hard to do, as people were on all sides of our bus and it would have been great to get fresh air and mill around. After about 45 minutes a BxB rep came back on the bus and apologized for the bad information. They said we should all get off the bus but stay nearby as we would be called for ticketing soon. This also proved inaccurate, as it took at least an hour before they would be ready for our bus. The BxB worker came by and again revised the suggestion saying people were welcome to explore Gerlach a bit as it would take a while.

I found the BMORG office and their open Wi-Fi and published an update to eplaya that evening.

Ticketing
Will Call ticketing for BxB was handled much differently than standard Will Call. BxB does not approach the gate so everyone had to be ticketed at Gerlach.

The BxB workers in Gerlach were not properly equipped for a night-time handling of tickets for hundreds of people. There were only two people working under a small EZ up tent and one guy out coordinating all the buses. It wasn’t lit properly and BxB could have had twice as much staff at Gerlach and it still wouldn’t have been enough to smooth out the operation.

Also, it is worth noting that I specifically tried to resolve this issue in advance with BM's official ticketing support line and failed.

Gerlach Will Call for BxB
Image

Leading up to being let off the bus, people were making (sort of) jokes about revolting against the BxB organizers because of the conditions and caged feeling people were getting. Some people were genuinely frustrated but by and large people accepted the issues as part of the journey.

Crucially, because I bought my tickets in the OMG sale, I had an extra BM ticket I needed to get to the real Will Call for a friend arriving later in the week. The BxB people would not transfer my ticket for me, instead telling me I would need to get out to the main gate and drop it off in. This is not a practical way to handle ticketing.

I do not know what the solution to Ticketing for Burner Express and Burning Man is, but I hope the ops group is thinking heavily about how this can be handled better.

Ticketing in Gerlach was one of the top three problems I experienced with BxB this year. I read BMORG is considering print-at-home tickets for international and OMG sales next year. Some combination of this and having “will-call only” buses might be things to explore.

Arrival
Our bus skipped a 6 hour line into the event, which proved very important as we might have gotten stuck in the rainstorm shutdown Monday morning. This line skipping is possibly the most valuable thing that the BxB offers people.

Because it was quite late when our bus finally stopped at 6:00 and G, it was dark and crazy getting off the bus.

If you’re lucky, someone you know from your camp will be waiting for you and ready to help you with your gear when you get in. If you’re solo, a first-timer or not lucky, arrival from BxB may be a bit like a military beach landing.

People are going all over, it is dark, you are worried about your stuff and leaving it. There is a gong being struck loudly and repeatedly as Birgins are practicing the welcoming ceremony. If it is your first time, you will probably not know which direction is which.

There were no BxB folks around my bus when we arrived, and thus no directions on where the BxB camping area was. There was no one giving out the moop and recycling bag combo that is supposed to be available to each BxB rider.

I believe other buses got better treatment, but it was chaos.

This became my first hard lesson in self-reliance. You must be able to figure out how to handle yourself in the absence of guidance and collapse of a plan.

But it also is more in the spirit of what BM is. There is no tour guide at Burning Man, and while perhaps accessible to beginners, BxB is not designed to help beginners.

I was actually looking at the iBurn app on my phone with my stuff (which was now two big luggage pieces and assorted beer items) trying to orient myself and some Burner who had been there for early arrival and was picking up a pal from my bus immediately started messing with me for using my phone.

His pal, (another BxB rider from our bus) knew my context and shooed him away, and I’m glad they did. In retrospect, you look silly looking at a smartphone out there so I understood why he was razzing me. A well-placed “Fuck yer burn” would have sufficed but I had been traveling over 12 hours and nearly snapped at him.

Be prepared to be worn out and have your nerves shot by the time you set foot on the playa riding BxB. [Take Note: our bus was not searched by LEOs, however at least one other BxB bus was searched with a drug dog and my understanding is that this resulted in seizures. Be mindful of your risk profile.]

Burner Express Camping
I took a portion of my gear in the wrong direction, and set it down next to someone’s RV trying to find the BxB camping at 6:15 and I. Getting back to the unloading area, I realized I should find a BxB worker and did. They then happily pointed me in the right direction, indicating a shade structure to camp around.

Critically, just having this explained and basically pointed out would have made a big difference for me. Again, it felt like BxB could have had twice the number of workers than they did.

It took three trips across about two BRC blocks to get my gear to 6:15 and i. While theft is not a big problem at BRC, if it is your first time and you are solo it is kind of hard to leave anything alone. Especially in the crazy darkness and chaos of arrival. I saw what appeared to be abandoned gear and did not want to lose my stuff. This added stress, but none of my stuff was messed with and eventually I was able to get it all there.

Most people clustered their tents around the shade structure. Wanting independence and to stake out a claim, I took the corner of 6:15 and I proper. This turned out awesome, but also meant I met neighbors outside of BxB camp more than people in it.

This allotted camping area is the second most valuable thing about BxB after gate line skipping. 6 and I is very well positioned in the event. The camping area is so good that I would recommend people arriving Tuesday to look for open space in it, as BxB allows anyone to start camping in that area starting that day.

Finally, I assumed BxB would not get in on time, so I had practiced full set-up of my tarp, tent and camp in the dark in the weeks leading up to the Burn. I can not recommend this enough for future BxB riders. Practice your camp setup with your goggles, headlamp, dust mask and boots on. It is totally possible you will be unloaded into a dust storm in the pitch dark. Be ready for that.

This selfie, taken mid-camp setup after arriving via BxB shows how dark your setup may be.
Image

Exodus on Burner Express
Despite the travails of getting there, Exodus on Burner Express was actually worse for me. I chose the 6 AM Monday departure time, which was great for experiencing the entire burn but also quite challenging.

The first thing is that packing your camp will take all day Sunday, and if you don’t get started early, you may end up like me rushing to pack everything and leave no trace as the sun sets. Not good! You probably won’t want to pack up your tent Monday morning, so you need to figure out sleeping arrangements.

Regardless, BxB requests you are ready to go an hour early. There was again a massive line of people checking in to leave on BxB Monday morning at 5am. Again, only two people working check in, which meant even if you got there at the requested time, the bus had no hope of leaving on time. BxB should double staffing at this point as well.

The greatest source of frustration with Burner Express was just about to begin.

First, the mentality for people leaving early monday is kind of weird. If you’re like me, Temple was heavy and after a full week your mind is in a strange and otherworldly place. So any kind of logistics are hard.

People are no longer in the party vibe, but more the “I’m ready to sleep and go home” vibe. No one wants to be in a cramped bus, but everyone accepts this is reality.

I believe about three and a half buses of people left with the “6 am” departure time on Monday. I was toward the end of the line and for some reason, the BxB folks felt it was very important that each bus be filled to absolute capacity. Every single seat needed to be filled.
I warily was waiting for the ‘final’ bus of the 6am departure, because it was obvious it would not be full. There were approximately 30 people including me left in the line, all with 6am handstamps. But the BxB worker was insistent, “are there any singles left? we must fill every bus.”

Everyone seemed to be waiting tensely as no one wanted to be the last onto the bus. She asked again for singles and I despite knowing it was a bad personal decision, raised my hand and packed my gear under the already packed bus. (This is how I knew the luggage BxB requirements made sense).

The BxB worker sensed the frustration in the line and apologized to me and another single rider about the need to fill each bus. In retrospect, I should have ignored the request for singles and just gotten on the final bus with the stragglers.

It appeared there was no good reason to completely fill our bus, as the final bus had to leave with us half full. I do not know why this BxB person did not allow people to spread out between these two buses. It turned out to be a big mistake.

2014 BxB Buses Were Not “Well-Appointed”
This was the only area of the BxB experience that I think was not honest, and in my view the number one problem with the service this year. The BxB website says “Burners will board well-appointed, comfortable buses at locations in San Francisco and Reno airport with their luggage.”

While the bus I rode on the way to BRC was just okay, (it got warm and the AC and overhead air was broken on one half the bus) The bus on the ride back out was moop on wheels.

Two key problems affected the bus:

An entire window shade was torn off and missing from the bus. This meant 3-4 rows got unavoidable direct sunlight for the entire ride home.
The air conditioning was completely and hopelessly broken on our bus.

I can go around and around about this, but having the AC not working nearly caused a riot on our bus. As I described, people were not in an easy mindset already. Riding the BxB home was easily the hottest I was at all of Burning Man.

People tried to help the bus operator test and re-test the AC to get it working. English was a second language to our driver, but we had someone who spoke his language. It didn’t help. He said he was also very hot and could not make the bus work correctly. Finally, we had to open the emergency escape and air doors on top of the bus. It barely helped.

It was unfair of BxB to make riders sit in in a completely packed bus in standstill Sacramento traffic for hours on end with no air conditioning.

I distinctly remember an older woman our bus bemoaning our situation, repeating “it was not like this last year.” (she took BxB the first year as well) and “I would not have recommended this to so many people if I had known this could happen.”

Interestingly, it got so bad there there was this clear breaking point where people suddenly realized no one would help us and we needed to get out of our heads and band together again as a community. Once snapped out of the impossibility of our bus situation, someone took charge and began asking who needed water or had snacks to share to make things more comfortable. A mister was passed. Suddenly we were in this together, the burn was not over for us. It actually felt good for a moment that we took control.

That said, when we pulled up to Bill Graham, someone near the back told people on our bus to write in and request a refund. This individual said he planned to, and there was a rousing agreement from the bus. At the time, I thought I would also.

I have not requested a refund, in part because, hell, BxB got me there and back. Burning Man was so amazing that BxB really couldn’t impact what I lived through out there. Burning Man is not a gift-wrapped thing without foibles. Things go wrong out there sometimes and you roll with it. I am giving BxB the benefit of the doubt that they will fix this for next yaer.

I also waited weeks to write this, in part so I could cool off and not let it unfairly color the service.

That said, some people may feel differently about what $200 ought to deliver, and I wouldn’t blame anyone on our bus from wanting a refund. It was that hot, and whoever that was that enforced the “every bus must be full” thing on our departing group reduced themselves below that of the lowliest shirtcocker. That said, with the weather, I think a lot of people put up with unwanted transportation issues with little-to-no belly aching!

Bus did make one welcome stop at a McDonalds and left evidence on the black top
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Arrival Back in San Francisco
This is kind of a lonely experience. I highly recommend you have a friend waiting for you at arrival. I did not, and decided to blow a bunch of money getting an UberX all the way home. The driver was reasonable but not super excited about all my dusty crap. Your headspace will not tolerate a lot of uncertainty at this point. Plan to have someone there to help you when you get dropped off!

In Summary
Despite exodus sucking for us, I think BxB is actually a great way for a solo first timer to get into and out of BRC. It largely delivers on what it says it will, and if you pack and plan carefully, you may be able to save a lot of hassle at the Gate and on the road.

The best parts are skipping the gate line and having a reserved camping area when you arrive. The worst parts are made much worse if your planning and packing is loose.

If you’re going for a solo week long first Burn, BxB forces you to camp minimalistically, which I think is a great way to do Burning Man the first time. The far majority of riders are first timers, but I also met one old-timer and multiple 2nd or 3rd year Burners.

In whole, I do recommend Burner Express as a transportation method to and from Burning Man. I will send constructive criticism directly to BMORG. I hope this is helpful to a few people and I'm happy to answer any questions about stuff I didn't cover.

This is part of a small series of posts I plan to combine as a first-timer solo burn guide. Here are a few Quick links to other relevant posts:

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Ratty
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by Ratty » Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:40 pm

Spacetime, that was a great post. I plan to send my Godchild on BXB for her first burn. I have an EA pass but she will come in with the masses. I'll insist that she read this as well as everything else about the ride. I learned plenty from your experience. Among other things, I'll need to bring a wagon to retrieve her from the bus stop. I already knew that the scheduled time of arrival means nothing. She will have to go into this ride with zero expectations.

I saw the travelers getting off with sweat pouring down them. This was from a mere ½ hour of no AC. The drivers turn it off when the wind kicks up on arrival. I can't imagine the trip with no AC. Hell, I might ask for a partial refund myself.

Thanks for the detailed post. Information on exactly how it works has been non-existent. If the company won't tell us then it is entirely up to the customers. Thanks again for taking the time. Let me know where you plan to camp next year and we'll split a Gatorade.
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blue muppet
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by blue muppet » Sat Sep 20, 2014 4:00 pm

Spacetime, great post with a lot of info that could be helpful for newbies in particular next year.

Spacetime's post was so helpful that I got inspired to share my own experiences with the BXB, which are like night and day compared to his. I think my smooth easy experience was a combination of experience, planning and good luck.

I left from Reno on the Sunday 11AM bus. I was traveling with a friend. It was his first time and my second time. We had joined a theme camp which provided water. This was one of the first things that jumped out at me as a logistical challenge when I bought bus tickets in the winter so I made sure our asses were covered on that front. We also had a shade structure that we sent in on a regional shipping container. Obviously the BXB shuttles aren't going to be helpful for something like that, especially since our container was near the Esplanade, so that option isn't for everyone.

Since our water needs were taken care of, we each took a cooler as part of our luggage allotment. All the groceries went in the coolers, easy and self contained. When we did food shopping we ended up getting a bunch of canned and dry goods that didn't fit in our luggage, but it wasn't a problem-at check in I paid $20 to upgrade to the large luggage option. If you're coming in from far away and don't know anyone, I highly recommend renting a car for your time in Reno. It makes your shopping so much easier, and pickup/dropoff at the airport is super easy as well. We even got to drive up to Lake Tahoe since we had extra time and a vehicle.

We got to the airport for check in around 1015 and there was a long line. It moved surprisingly fast though. There were people waiting to check in to the noon bus as well, as it got closer to 11 and they hadn't cleared everyone they started kicking people with tickets for the noon bus out of line so the 11 am-ers could get processed in time. I really appreciated that, although a few people were butthurt about having to go to the back of the line. I was honestly impressed with how hard and efficiently the staff was working, and without losing their tempers. Our bus left around 11:40, not bad IMO considering how much luggage and people-wrangling they had to do.

I'm really surprised by spacetime's experience with the broken air conditioning and etc because our bus was quite comfortable! The AC was great until we got on the playa and the vents had to be shut. The driver was pretty cool too. We were in the front row so we talked with him throughout the ride. It took us 7 hours from leaving the airport to arrive on playa. That includes the stop in Gerlach for will call-ers to get their tickets. Traffic started about 30 miles south of Gerlach. I agree that the ticketing stop in Gerlach isn't the most efficient way to handle things.

Once we got off the bus in BRC it was a bit of a clusterfuck. It was early evening so there was still staff there, and the greeters were pretty vocal about rounding up all the virgins to ring the bell, heh. Our luggage truck arrived at exactly the same time as us. The shuttles however were really confusing and not that helpful since they only go along G street. I ended up leaving my buddy at the depot and walking to our camp. Borrowed a vehicle and got our luggage and then our shipped in luggage in one fell swoop. This of course wouldn't be feasible for many first timers so yeah, either that system needs some revising or people just have to plan well for it.

Exodus went even smoother for us. We had tickets for Monday at 6AM, but decided to leave on Sunday morning instead. Packed up as quick as we could, and borrowed a car again to drop off our stuff and our luggage at the depot. Another friend from camp who was also leaving on the bus the next day met us there to check in since his ticket was one way, and took the car back for us. Since we were leaving early they put us on standby. We happened to arrive as a departing bus was loading up. I think it was around 10 AM? We didn't get on it but another one showed up a few minutes later. Here is one important area where my experience was different than spacetime-we had nowhere near enough people to fill the bus. Only 19. But once we were all on nobody else showed up so the volunteers gave the driver the go ahead to leave! We were back in Reno less than 3 hours later. I felt so spoiled! This time our luggage truck was stopped by law enforcement but wasn't delayed for long, they got to the airport about 10 minutes after the bus and nobody complained about their bags being opened.

Overall I had a good experience and would definitely do it again, but I do think it's best for people who are going as part of a camp where either food or water is already provided for. There are just so many things that are required to be entirely self sufficient that I don't think the bus is a good fit for solo campers.

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BBadger
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by BBadger » Sat Sep 20, 2014 9:00 pm

Nice report! Glad it came with pictures too.
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Lonesomebri
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by Lonesomebri » Sat Sep 20, 2014 9:16 pm

spacetime wrote:How did it go logistically for people? How was the value overall?
This was your first year, you did it this clean, took the bus, compiled this report, and posted it here for others? Yeah, that alone makes me kinda supportive of "virgins" coming in on the bus, not that what i think matters, but it makes me warm inside seeing stuff like this. Great report and photos....and BRC citizen. ...and it didn't take someone holding your hand, cooking for you, mooping for you, fixing you drinks, to get this enlightened....? Stick around.
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by Elderberry » Sat Sep 20, 2014 9:46 pm

Excellent post!
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forty_eight
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by forty_eight » Sat Oct 04, 2014 11:14 pm

Nice, that was well done ... interesting stuff.

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NikkiG
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by NikkiG » Tue Oct 07, 2014 10:05 pm

This was my second year using the Burner Express. I left Reno Airport on the Saturday 12 PM shopping stop bus, and I arrived at the main bus depot ~5 PM at 6:15 & J. We would've arrived there sooner, but we got stuck in traffic for 30 min because the bus driver entered the wrong gate lane. As usual, I ordered a large package with 4 large bags and a bike. I pretty much brought the same thing I did last year (2 large suitcases, 2 boxes of water, a soft cooler, a backpack and a bike). I didn't have any issues transporting my luggage back and forth because I was staying a 1/2 block from the bus stop at 9 & G. The only annoying thing that I encountered was the bike transportation issues from the main depot. The Burner Express Bus does not transport bikes on their shuttle buses. They did it last year, but not this year. I was forced to ride my bike from the main depot at 6:15 and J to 9 & G. This majorly sucked balls because I was not physically fit to ride there in good timing. Anywho, I beat the shuttle bus by 10 min, and I was able to cop a wagon from my camp mate to transport my bags when the shuttle arrived.

As for my Exodus, it went pretty smoothly. Riding my bike back to 6:15 & J was an even bigger pain in the butt on Sunday 6am than it was on Saturday afternoon because I had severe period cramps. I know TMI, but it was something that I was struggling with that day. Not to mention that I spent the previous 2 hours taking down my tent by myself in the middle of the night. Anyway, unlike the rest of yall, I boarded the last bus leaving at 6am, and I was able to enjoy a halfway packed bus back to Reno Airport. I knew it would be half full because I volunteered for the bus this year....lol 8) . It took us 2.5 hours to arrive at Reno airport at 8:30am. The best part of exodus was when I donated my used bike to the Kiwanis bike program at Reno airport. They had a bike corral 1 block away from the bus drop off...NICE.
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by skippy3k » Thu Oct 09, 2014 1:35 pm

I have zero interest in taking Burner Express, but read and enjoyed every word of your account. That was the longest post I ever read straight through on ePlaya. Fascinating, fascinating stuff. Good job.
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omegared
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by omegared » Thu Oct 09, 2014 3:57 pm

My Burner Express experience was mixed. The ride there was well executed, timely, and an all around good experience. The ride back not so much... there was no A.C. on the ride from BBC to Gerlach. This didn't really bother me but several of the other passengers became unruly and complained ad nauseum. A gentleman (I call him that only because I have manners) approached the driver and complained for 10 minutes about the lack of AC and available water. Seriously??? You just spent a week in the sweltering desert and now you're bitching about the lack of air conditioning for an hour? At Gerlach a mechanic fixed the AC. I guess my irritation came not from the lack of AC but from the complaining of the dissident passengers. The remainder of the trip to Reno was slow but not altogether unpleasant. Once at the Reno airport I do kinda have a gripe... we were dropped off nearly half a mile from where we were picked up with all our gear. So it was leap-frog, moving 4 bags a half a mile to the shuttle to the hotel. My bike, I was to find out, wouldn't show up for approximately 6 hours which necessitated either a second trip back to the airport, or sitting at the airport for 6 hours. I chose the former, which was kinda a pain in the ass. Altogether I guess I would rate my Burner Express experience about 7/10. I would recommend it, but there were a couple bumps in the road, so keep an open mind. But after all I was a virgin burner begging for a ride and they delivered. A good service that in my opinion should be expanded. After my experiences on the playa and reading the OP it is entirely possible to be self reliant with the options available on the Burner Express... it may promote PnP camps, but it kinda depends on the person. If you want to respect the Principles, largely self reliance, it can be done.
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by andy » Thu Oct 09, 2014 10:13 pm

I drove but my wife joined me midweek by BxB. Even though we're in the Bay Area, I found a cheap flight to Reno and she flew and took BxB for only about $40 more than bus from SFO.

There is no doubt that this worked for us because and only because I took stuff in our car and our yurt came on the camp truck. I think BxB could become a HUGE success if they had unlimited luggage, pay-by-volume. Most Burners arrive 2 to a car because the back seat and trunk are usually packed to the gills. You really need to provide that same volume of space to make BxB successful. Another very useful option would be UPS to Reno or Gerlach with a BxB stop to pick up your packages and put them on the truck.

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spacetime
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by spacetime » Fri Oct 10, 2014 12:43 am

andy wrote:...Another very useful option would be UPS to Reno or Gerlach with a BxB stop to pick up your packages and put them on the truck.
Interesting ideas. Pay by volume seems like it might work but the luggage would have to be measured at the curb before departure. I don't think it is really possible to have a timely departure and measure everything to the point of priced accuracy. Measuring the volume of a folded up camping chair with a tape measure is kind of dicey, because it is an irregular shape. At least coming from SF, doing this accurately with all the stuff strewn across the front of Bill Graham morning of departure seems untenable.

The shipping to Gerlach caught my eye. However, storing, organizing and redistributing packages during a bus stop would be a lot of logistics (possibly needing to be performed in the dark). Also, people would likely be bringing in or leaving disposable packaging (taped cardboard) in Gerlach. Then they'd have to mail it back out?

It seems to me having people bringing in tons of stuff, and a bike would make it harder to operate BxB. BxB has some more fundamental improvements to work on before becoming a serious alternative to two people and a packed sedan.

If the basics were nailed, and more luggage were allowed, I wonder how far that could go and still reasonably embrace principles. What I mean is, BxB isn't going to tow your art car in for you.

At some point if your setup is so grand in scope (and volume) that it requires more attention, it may go beyond the bounds of simple organized transportation in and out of BRC.

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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by omegared » Fri Oct 10, 2014 3:07 am

The unlimited luggage option I think is kinda unreasonable. The current system (2 or 4 bags 62 inches or less) works fine, but it would be useful if there was an option to pay for additional bags... There already is (the 4 bag option) but even in addition to that. A pay by bag option, with a cap of course... noone needs to bring 15 bags to the playa on the BxB.
"Honey you don't want to be in your tent right now. I looks like Burning Man THREW UP in there."

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purcitron
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by purcitron » Sat Jun 13, 2015 12:37 pm

interesting.
arrival seems chaotic.

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Hope-a-Lope
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by Hope-a-Lope » Sat Jun 13, 2015 8:00 pm

I'm glad this discussion is happening, as I've been debating how best to get to the playa this year. My first year I was in a car, last year I took BE. I heard it went extremely smoothly in 2013, but that wasn't my experience in 2014.

I took the 12:30pm bus from Reno on Sunday.

Things that stand out, better or (mostly) worse:

- understaffed vibe at Reno Airport
- unstructured line to wait, but fine, we know how to queue
- AC worked but was weak
- bus left ~2hr late
- fun vibe on the bus; lots of stories and beers
- long stop in Gerlach to get tickets, ~1hr
- skipped the line, avoiding the rain, fuck yeah
- transfer to the school buses to take you through the city was a mess. I waited ~30min for a school bus going in my direction, which is fine, but then ...it became the beaches of Normandy - everyone racing for the school bus, in the dark, lugging all their shit, all trying to get on at once.
- Once on school bus, it stopped each block upon demand, along Gold. Remaining passengers were happy to throw your shit off for you. Generally an ambiance of gratitude and excitement, but bewilderment at what happened back at the depot.
- actual departure from Reno 3pm, arrival at my camp (4&G) 11pm, so, not terrible

I ended up getting a ride back a day early and not using my return trip, so I can't speak to that. But prior to the ride, I was terrified of exodus and making my flight back east. I imagine this year it will probably be improved, but for several reasons, I will try to find another way in.

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Popeye
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by Popeye » Sat Jun 13, 2015 9:29 pm

Last year was definitely worse than 2013. I expectit will be a lot better this year because the whole Gate-Ticketing-Will Call thing has been redone. There where a lot of complaints and it looks like attention has been paid to last years problems.
Reno was understaffed and their seemed to be a lack of direction for those working. I think it might be tough to get volunteers in Reno, everyone passing through and intent on getting to the Playa. If you have a few extra hours you can spend at the airport, then sign up. I think this is one place where one or two people could make a huge impact.
Getting around on those school busses is a PITA, and if you are camping other than where the bus goes you're screwed but unless we want busses running all through the city I don't see what else can be done.
Personally I would not worry about bags left at the depot while I went to camp for some help or a ride.
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picsoung
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by picsoung » Tue Jun 30, 2015 1:21 pm

If I may suggest something about school buses while on the playa: steps to load luggages on the back door.
It was pretty hard to load heavy luggages.

Otherwise... my first trip on BE was a year ago, I guess I've forgot all the bad things about it and I am ready to embrace my second ride this year :)

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spacetime
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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by spacetime » Mon Jul 20, 2015 11:16 am

I'm also considering doing BxB this year despite problems last year. I sent in my feedback including a link to this thread to bmorg so hopefully it was read and considered. I saw the job posting go up a long time ago to direct this effort so hopefully whoever got that gig does a great job this year. If i do BxB again, I will probably document it to see how it changed.

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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by JiffyPop3+ » Sun Aug 09, 2015 11:13 pm

I am reading everyone's stories about exodus on the Burner Express and am sensing that I am MOST LIKELY fine with a Monday (9/7) 10:00am departure from BRC to arrive by 4:30/5:00pm for a 6:00pm flight from Reno. Most stories re: Exodus seem to be relatively efficient with time, even if a bit chaotic or disorganized. Does anyone have experience that 10:00am would NOT be ok? any more info would be great. Thanks everyone and have an amazing week!

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Re: Burner Express Impressions

Post by pink » Mon Aug 10, 2015 2:21 am

Exodus last year was insanely easy bar no year I've ever driven it. My first year (2005) it took me 7 hours to get to Reno from my camp. I left a 10am on Monday. After that, I'd get on the road by 6:30 or 7am, and get to Reno before noon. Since 2011 I've left on Tuesday instead of Monday.

Except for right after Temple burn, I didn't hear of more than an hour to get off playa, and most people drove straight to the road. However, in 2011 there was a massive accident on 1-80 in Reno, and 447 was backed up...to the Gate. The Gate was backed up to somewhere in the city. BMIR was imploring people not to try to leave.

So the moral of the story is, last year's amazingly easy exodus was not at all the usual in the 10 years I've been going, and you never know what can happen to screw things up. All it takes is an accident on 447, and you're stuck. So yes, you are cutting it close.

There's also something to be said for getting a shower & clean clothes before you get on the plane. There is really nothing like your first shower off the playa!
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