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Telling a Great Story of 108 Years Ago

On or about April 14, 1906, 108 years ago this week, pioneering professional filmmakers the Miles Brothers bolted a hand-cranked camera onto the front of a cable car and rode down Market Street from Eighth Street to the Ferry Building. The film they shot has gained new interest in the past few years, since film historian David Kiehn demonstrated that it was made just a few days before the great earthquake and fire destroyed almost everything you see. (Previously, the film was thought to have been made in the summer of 1905.)

This “Trip Down Market Street” has been seen millions of times in the century-plus since it was made, but there’s only one fully narrated version we know of — ours! Click below for a preview.

In the full 11 minute video, Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher, author of ON TRACK and a noted San Francisco historian, tells you what you’re seeing on every block along the way in this memorable film, including social, economic, and political history to go with the transit history. It’s all woven together seamlessly, bringing this wonderful film, “A Trip Down Market Street,” to life.

You can see the full 11 minute video free at our San Francisco Railway Museum, open daily except Monday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. For just $12.95, you can also buy your own copy at the Museum, or right here at our online store (scroll down the store page until you reach the video). Remember, Market Street Railway Members get 10% off.

Special History Sale and Book Signing Today

Today (Saturday, April 12) is a special day at our San Francisco Railway Museum. From 11 a.m. through mid-afternoon, we’ll be holding a sidewalk sale of transit and railroad books, photos, memorabilia, and ephemera right outside the museum just across from the Ferry Building (F-line Steuart Street stop).

And from Noon to 3 p.m., Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher will be signing copies of his new book, ON TRACK: A Field Guide to San Francisco’s Historic Streetcars and Cable Cars. Rick will also be glad to answer your questions about the historic fleet, the F-line, E-line, and Market Street Railway.

Come on down and make it a great day out!

New Streetcar Book Signing at Museum April 12

It’s a hot seller! Talking about ON TRACK: A Field Guide to San Francisco’s Historic Streetcars and Cable Cars, the new comprehensive view of the city’s vintage rail vehicles and history, written by Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher.

On Saturday, April 12, from 12 Noon to 3 p.m., you can meet Rick and get an inscribed copy of ON TRACK at our San Francisco Railway Museum, 77 Steuart Street, across from the Ferry Building (right at the F-line Steuart Street stop). This is a great chance to pick up extra copies to use as gifts, and get them signed on the spot!

Rick will also be glad to answer any questions you have about the F-line, the historic vehicles themselves, and Market Street Railway’s plans and priorities for the future. So come on down and meet Rick, pick up some copies of ON TRACK, and enjoy the day!

Remember, Market Street Railway members get 10% off the $14.95 cover price. If you’re not a member, you can either join now, or at the event.

E-Line Finally Budgeted...For 2016!

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It’s going to take even longer before you see this sight every day. E-line service won’t be full-time until 2016.

As the old saying goes, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is the SFMTA Board of Directors has approved funding to start regular E-line service.

The bad news is that full-time E-line service isn’t funded until the spring of 2016, with weekend service (11 a.m.-7 p.m.) okayed to start in the summer of 2015. The schedule was contained in the Transit Effectiveness Program adopted by the SFMTA Board last Friday.

Market Street Railway and numerous community and business groups along the E-line route have been advocating that SFMTA budget E-line operating funds earlier in the next two-year budget cycle, which begins July 1, 2014. We pressed our case with SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, who acknowledged the importance of the line, but stated that other priorities, such as increased bus service in the Mission Street corridor, ranked even higher. Reiskin also indicated that a shortage of training staff and rail operators would have precluded start-up of E-line service this summer in any event.

This was presented to us as a fait accompli, with no consultation, discussion, or community outreach, a far cry from the process SFMTA followed with changes to existing lines. When outreach was conducted on existing routes, several proposals were changed by SFMTA staff in response to community concerns.

Reiskin and service planning director Julie Kirschbaum pointed out that there is going to be increased vintage streetcar service within a month or two: new schedules for the F-line reduce headways from six minutes between streetcars to five minutes at some times of the day. This may help alleviate some of the crowding on the line.

While appreciative that some funding has finally come through for E-line operation, Market Street Railway believes that weekend-only service is not a good idea (except for a brief period to gain operational experience for Muni staff working and managing the line). The need for the E-line service is there seven days a week, not two. Irregular operation will likely prove confusing to prospective passengers and lead to disappointment and disillusionment. For this reason, we will continue to advocate for accelerated startup of the E-line.

We will also advocate for the earliest possible extension of the E-line south through Mission Bay to Dogpatch. Looping the cars through Muni Metro East, using a convenient track at the western edge of the yard (adjacent to Illinois Street between 25th Street and Cesar Chavez Street) would allow all vintage streetcars to serve the E-line, providing Muni with great operating flexibility.

The Phase One plan, terminating at the existing stub end tracks in the King Street median next to Caltrain, restricts the E-line to double-ended streetcars, which comprise only about 20 percent of the active vintage fleet. (And for those who wonder, the Breda LRVs are not an option. Muni often doesn’t have enough for its regular LRV lines and there is not enough electrical capacity on north of the Ferry Building to accommodate more than a handful of LRVs anyway.)

We are urging SFMTA to make the minor platform modifications along Third Street to allow E-line vintage streetcars to pick up and drop off passengers through Mission Bay and Dogpatch. These could be in place by the adopted Spring 2016 start-up for the E-line. We hope our advocacy, combined with that of neighborhood and business groups in that area, pays off.

New Field Guide to SF's Historic Streetcars & Cable Cars

Market Street Railway is proud to announce the release of our new field guide to San Francisco’s historic streetcars and cable cars: ON TRACK.

Written by Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher, this 128-page guide tells you the story of each vintage rail vehicle in Muni’s fleet, gives you riding tips, lists the historic sites you’ll pass on each route, and shares insider secrets for great walks that link to your historic ride. It’s full color and there are great graphics of every car, and loads of current and historic photos as well.

ON TRACK includes a concise history of transit in San Francisco and the story of how vintage streetcar service came to be and grew in popularity. There’s even a trainspotter’s guide to let you record the vintage vehicles you ride or see.

At 4.5” by 9”, it slips right in your pocket, so it will always be at the ready as you ride or watch the cavalcade of cable cars and streetcars in the City.

We’ve written it to appeal to both San Franciscans and visitors from around the world. It’s available now at our San Francisco Railway Museum, or on our online store. It’s just $14.95, and remember, Market Street Railway members get 10% off!

All proceeds go to support the mission of Market Street Railway: Preserving Historic Transit in San Francisco. So pick up one for yourself, and additional copies too, because they make great gifts.

No F-Line Fare Increase

The idea of possibly tripling F-line historic streetcar fares appears dead. That comes directly from SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, according to a City Insider post on the Chronicle’s website.

Opposition to the plan was strong and broad-based, centered on the inequity of raising fares for one line that serves several neighborhoods, seemingly based on the fact that tourists also ride it.

The idea was dropped the same day the Chronicle published a scathing editorial denouncing a higher fare for the F-line.

“Almost everyone who has heard about this proposal - from tourists to locals to Fisherman’s Wharf businesses to the San Francisco supervisors with constituents near the F-Market line - has said no, no, and no again,” the Chronicle wrote, continuing, “Add our voice to that chorus. Even if the F-Market line were strictly for tourists - which it most certainly is not - this would still be a terrible idea. Tripling the cost of any one line to pay for the support of the others is unfair to everyone who uses the Muni system. Such a choice would not only deter tourists from using public transportation in San Francisco, it would also discourage locals from doing so.”

Our takeaway from this episode is that the F-line has truly broad and deep support among its riders, businesses, and neighborhood groups along the route, and throughout the city as well. They see it as an integral part of Muni that fills daily transportation needs for San Franciscans. As such, it should share its fare with the rest of the day-to-day Muni system.

We thank Director Reiskin for removing this idea from the list of possible revenue increases being considered by the SFMTA Board of Directors. We look forward to joining with other supporters of the city’s historic streetcars to make their operation even more efficient and attractive.

Opposition to F-Line Fare Increase Keeps Growing

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Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

More and more city leaders, groups, and individuals are sounding off about Muni staff’s idea of tripling the F-line fare to match the cable cars. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisor Scott Weiner, whose combined districts cover most of the F-line route, have written a “two thumbs down” letter about the proposal, focusing on how it is discriminatory against residents along the line who depend on it.

San Francisco Travel (formerly known as the Convention & Visitors Bureau) wrote a letter to Muni’s governing body, the SFMTA Board of Directors, that pointed out how such a move would only encourage day-trippers from other Bay Area cities to bring their automobiles to town instead. Many long-distance visitors would opt for taxis instead, defeating the purpose of offering attractive public transit.

The newly formed Embarcadero Business Improvement District, centered around the Ferry Building, has just sent a letter saying the possible fare increase “is a significant threat to the renaissance of the waterfront, and is potentially quite harmful to both the area and the city as a whole…As a critical transit lifeline to the northern waterfront, the F-Line is relied upon by many San Franciscans on a daily basis; dramatically increasing fares would discourage the use of the F-Line as a real transit option, and would likely condemn the line to a mere tourist line — with negative consequences for commuters and the City’s transit ecology.”

The Chronicle has now weighed in with a prominent story on the triple-the-F-line-fare idea. The article, by transportation reporter Michael Cabanatuan, noted, “In a series of town hall meetings discussing the budget, MTA officials acknowledged that charging more to ride the F-Market line has been extremely unpopular. They say it’s not a done deal and even bristle at it being labeled a proposal.” The article’s conclusion: “The public, almost universally, does not approve.”

That last point is made clear by the comments to the story at the bottom of the story itself on the Chronicle’s website, SFGate. “Guitar 49,” who commutes to the Wharf area from the East Bay, noted that tripling the fare would force him to quit the job he has held for 17 years and look for something closer to home. “No, keep the streetcars at $2 per ride, because many of us commuters rely on them as well, and they are very much appreciated by those of us who ride them… it makes for a beautiful start to the day, which is important because that “beautiful” start translates into better customer service and a calmer existence.”

“snoozysusie” wrote, “When they replaced the 8 Market line with the F line we were assured it would be a regular Muni line, not just a tourist line. So to change the rules now is dishonest. Anyone who lives in Upper Market area and goes downtown to shop uses the F line. Raising the fare will be one more reason not to go downtown to shop.”

“Samllama” wrote, “It’s time for the entire MTA to be re-evaluated, maybe eliminate some of these cushy jobs in the administrator ranks, and these people who come up with these crazy revenue ideas.”

One note on the Chronicle story: the reporter gives us way too much credit when he notes that the “streetcar of opposition [is] being piloted by Market Street Railway.” Just like the first time SFMTA staff raised this possibility, four years ago, the opposition is broad, and arose spontaneously, once the Muni budget documents were publicized. We did alert interested groups to the SFMTA F-line proposal (or “just ideas put on the table as something to consider,” in the words of their spokesman, a distinction without a difference as we see it). The response was self-generated, though to be sure we strongly oppose any effort to uncouple the F-line fare from general Muni fares. The Chronicle quoted our president accurately in saying “We think this is a terrible idea,” but the newspaper contacted us, not the other way around.

We feel the Chronicle wrote a balanced news article. Last Sunday, former Mayor Willie Brown struck a different note when, near the bottom of his opinion column, he breezily noted, “Nothing wrong with the idea of soaking tourists for $6 to ride the historic F-line streetcars. Most of the riders are tourists and tourists don’t vote, at least not here. If you’ve got to get money from someone, they offer the least resistance and least damage.”

This view was predictably derided by readers in the comments section, but the value of the former Mayor’s opinion on Muni matters had already been established in the previous paragraph, where he had written of the long lines at the cable car turntables, “To this day, I haven’t figured out why at least five cable cars will be lined up, motionless, as the tourists wait.”

Really, Mayor Brown? In eight years in office, you never asked your Muni leadership that question? Would it have something to do with the old saying, “Don’t ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer?”

Back to the F-line: at least by asking the F-line fare increase question once again, four years after it was crushed by the SFMTA Board of Directors, Muni staff should have a very clear answer as to what the public, and city leaders, think of it. Our non-profit would much rather focus our energy on supporting improvements to historic streetcar (and cable car) service than dealing with this terrible idea.

Very Special Cable Car Rail Gifts

The cable cars are world famous historic artifacts, of course, but they couldn’t climb even a quarter-way to the stars without good rail underneath their wheels. Since the first cable car ran on Clay Street in 1873, different rail profiles have been used on different lines around the city. Now, we’re offering a pair of unique gifts at our San Francisco Railway Museum that show off the variety of historic cable car rail in the city.

Years ago, we had the chance to acquire original San Francisco cable car rail from the children of a man who had saved it when old likes like Sacramento-Clay and Washington-Jackson were torn up more than a half-century ago. Our volunteers sliced sections of this rail and polished it, and offered it to museum visitors as a fund-raising device for our non-profit.

Now we’ve taken it a step farther, thanks to dedicated volunteer Don McKinsey, who has personally fashioned frames of mahogany or oak to display these historic sections of cable car rail beautifully.

We have two types available. The three-rail version sells for $69.99. The four-rail version includes a very rare rail profile. We only had enough to make up 17 of these, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. They sell for $99.99. Remember, our members receive 10% off.

All the proceeds from these great gifts and other unique merchandise we offer help us preserve historic transit in San Francisco. You can see these in our museum, or order them from our online store.