When Hamlet Aguilar let go of the steering wheel, I held my breath and wondered what he had sprinkled on his cornflakes that morning.
But the Tesla Model X he was driving from Boston to New York swiftly took over the responsibilities of steering, accelerating, and braking. I shook my head in amazement. Yes, these feats of automotive magic (also known as semi-autonomous driving) may be old hat for people who have driven in Teslas, or who are lucky enough to own one. But this was my first time in one of these highly evolved electric vehicles, and I was transfixed by its abilities, its futuristic style, and the side doors that opened like a bird about to take flight.
I was in Aguilar’s Tesla because the 33-year-old Bloomfield, Conn., resident launched a company called Bound last fall. For $99 each way, you can travel from Boston to New York, or New York to Boston. Bound isn’t like Uber or Lyft. Think of it more like a plane, train, or bus to New York — except you’re riding in an electric car with fellow commuters.
“These cars have been rated the number-one road-trip car by a lot of magazines and a lot of experts,” Aguilar said from behind the wheel as I took my first ever trip in a Tesla. The base price of the Model X starts at $82,000. “Just riding in them is just an experience. We provide Wi-Fi, we provide neck pillows, and noise-canceling headphones. We have refreshments and snacks, as well.”
This is how it works: There are three daily departures from Boston to New York, at 5 a.m., 10 a.m., and 4:30 p.m. There are pick-up points in Boston, Cambridge, Newton, and Framingham. The New York to Boston route has departures at 11:15 a.m., 4:15 p.m., and 10:15 p.m. On average, the trip takes four and a half hours. Naturally that can change depending on traffic.
Before you ask, yes, Teslas can make the trip from Boston to New York on a single charge. Aguilar said the car’s range is less efficient when the temperature dips below 20 degrees. The day I traveled the thermometer hovered around 20 degrees and we pulled off the highway for a 15-minute break. This is standard for the comfort of passengers and to give the car a bit of extra juice.
Aguilar previously ran a company that leased Teslas to Uber drivers, but he quickly realized there was another business model lurking. So he acquired three Teslas — three more are on the way — hired drivers, and launched Bound. He said so far the results look promising.
Riders are allowed to bring one medium suitcase and two personal-size bags, like a backpack or purse.
The Tesla-as-shuttle idea isn’t new. There are routes in Florida and Europe. A California-based company ran a Tesla shuttle but has since changed its business model. But Bound operates the only Boston-New York route. Aguilar began testing the idea last fall with a Boston to Hartford run, and shortly after launched Boston to New York City.
Booking is done through the company’s website (ridebound.com). Riders receive a text 30 minutes before the car arrives. A booking app is coming soon.
Aguilar’s closest competitor is LimoLiner, a bus service that touts luxuries such as leather reclining seats, high-speed Internet, and a meal and beverage service. Prices on LimoLiner generally range from $79 to $99. There is more room to stretch out on LimoLiner than in the Tesla. There’s also a bathroom on the LimoLiner, something travelers may find more comforting than the Tesla’s single bathroom stop in Connecticut.
But Aguilar says the advantage to taking the Tesla is that it’s able to drive routes to New York, such as the Merritt Parkway, where buses are not allowed. This gives his drivers more flexibility to avoid traffic back-ups. He’s also quick to point out the positives of taking a car instead of a plane to New York.
“Once you get to LaGuardia, you still have to get into the city, and that’s a $40 or $50 Uber ride,” he said. “Depending on traffic, it can be a long ride.”
I tend to take Amtrak when I go to Manhattan, although it can be expensive at peak hours. The Internet can also be painfully slow on the train, but I’ve noticed a subtle improvement over the past two years.
The Internet in the Tesla was quick, and I was able to work efficiently most of the trip, but when there were twists and turns in the road, my laptop had a tendency to slide off my lap. Still, this was an improvement over working on a plane. On many Boston-to-New York shuttle flights, I’m unable to open my laptop if the person in front of me reclines the seat.
Aguilar has big plans for Bound, such as increasing the fleet and bringing on more corporate clients. Bound may not be the best New York transportation option for everyone, but currently it’s the only option with gull-wing doors and zero emissions.
“My goal is to provide not just a ride, but an experience,” he said. “They’re amazing to ride in.”