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Muni News / News and updates on the San Francisco Municipal Railway and SFMTA, its parent agency responsible for all transportation in the City.
 

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.

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.

On Donner!

Two beautiful sights in one: snow falling this morning on Donner Summit (keep it coming!) and PCC No. 1009, painted in tribute to Dallas, headed back to San Francisco. MSR Member James Giraudo caught this great action shot.

No. 1009 arrived safely in the city this afternoon, completing its return trip to Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania for refitting of the traditional-style door motors that work better than the computerized ones installed during the recent overhaul program.

No. 1009 should be back in service soon. Meanwhile, its twin, No. 1011, painted to honor our namesake, Market Street Railway Company (which wanted, but could never afford, PCCs) has been going through its “burn-in” period, where operators test the car without passengers for 1,000 miles to ensure everything works as it should. No word yet on when that car might enter service.

The Castro Weighs in on Six Buck F-line Proposal

Castro District residents are weighing in on the SFMTA staff proposal to raise the F-line fare to six dollars, a 300% increase in one fell swoop (not to be confused with Fell Street).

Here are a selection of reader comments from that site, castrobiscuit.com:

Gerald Koskovich: “What’s with pandering to drivers while sticking it to Muni riders? The F-Line isn’t simply some theme-park ride; it’s a crucial part of effective transportation on Market Street. The proposal is an utter contradiction of the City’s transit-first policy.” (At the time of this writing, the “Likes” for his comment outnumbered the “Dislikes” 39-2.)

Craig: “Unless the SFMTA plans to run a ‘regular’ bus line down the Market St. corridor, this plan is unacceptable for those of us who use the F line as our daily means of transportation.” (Likes outnumbered Dislikes 22-1.)

DerekSF: “I’d like to see that study that this will generate additional revenue. Locals will abandon the F-Line, and tourists with families are going to make tough choices between riding the cable cars OR the street cars and finding other ways to get to the wharf. This just seems like an all around bad idea.” (11-0).

You can make your opinion known directly to the decision-makers, the Board of Directors of Muni’s parent, the SFMTA, by sending an email here MTABoard@sfmta.com.

By the way, we’ve heard from higher-ups in Muni that they’re not actually proposing this increase, just that it seemed “worth putting on the table to explore.” So it’s up to you, readers, to let them know what you think.

Opposition Streams In to Higher F-line Fare

The proposal from SFMTA staff to consider a fare increase of either 50% or 300% for the F-line historic streetcar service is predictably being met with strong opposition.

On his Facebook page, Supervisor Scott Weiner writes, “Muni is also considering raising the F line fare to $6, even though a lot of residents rely on this line and particularly so as an alternative when the subway melts down…tripling the fare on a line used by residents would show an agency out of touch with how problematic service is.”

Sup. Weiner, who is widely respected for his thoughtful pro-transit views, represents the Upper Market and Castro areas, whose residents would be among the hardest hit by this proposal. Comments on Sup. Weiner’s Facebook post included these:

Patrick Connors: “The F is the ONLY above ground line running all the way between Van Ness and Castro Street. How can they charge $6 for a ride to Safeway/Whole Foods? Lugging groceries to the F is bad enough, but having to go underground to avoid $6 fare is just mean.”

Jeff Cluett: “…charging $6 for the F - which I had to use the one time I took the MUNI subway in the last month because of a breakdown - is unfair and self-defeating.”

Jason Hill: “Please fight hard against raising the F fare. There are times where that line is the most practical one (avoiding rush hour crush in the Metro, lugging heavy/bulky purchases home, etc) and other times where it is worth going a tad slower in order to take the scenic route. Don’t let them rob us of one of the rare pleasures of transit.”

Patrick Lewis: “Thank you for being the voice of reason! The F line is crucial transit infrastructure, not a tourist attraction like the cable cars.”

Sheila Sullivan: “The F Car replaced the 8 Market bus that ran to the Ferry Building. Is Muni bringing back the 8 Market? Providing no alternative but a $6.00 fare down Market Street doesn’t lend itself to our so-called “Transit First” City. If San Francisco truly wants to be Transit First, they need to provide the infrastructure.”

Maurice Rivers: “MUNI = More Unethical Nutty Ideas.”

At this writing, no one has offered a comment on Weiner’s post supporting an F-line fare increase.

Neither has anyone offered positive comments about this on other Facebook posts we’ve seen, nor in comments we’ve received here in response to our first post on this discriminatory fare increase proposal two days ago.

Waterfront worker Paul Wells: “Having an office one block from The Embarcadero at Green Street, it is a preferable connection. As a San Franciscan, I am far from alone in utilization of the F-line as a way to get to and from work. It services the Market Street corridor as an alternative to the Market Street Subway…Any tiered fare will only cause delay and confusion, removing the speed that these cars were designed to achieve, and their demonstration of their value as public transportation. They are important to the revitalization of Mid-Market as well as convenient, down-on-the-corner, transportation for the thousands of residents of new housing being built along the length of Market Street…The potential is very high that tourists would cease to use the F line as well as locals, causing a possible reverse effect on revenue. Find other sources that will not impact what is working.”

Mark Sylvester provides a visitor’s perspective: “This idea to raise the F-line fare to $6 is a very bad idea. Your example of $50 for a family of four to get to the Exploratorium [or the Wharf] is crazy. The family would pay $90 for [Exploratorium] admission to begin with - the cost to get there would be another $50. There’s a problem when transportation costs more then half of the admission price! Parking rates on the Exploratorium website are only $10. $40 buys a lot of gas, you keep the kids in the car, and you don’t need to worry about leaving anything behind. As a visitor, those are the numbers I’m going to look at. I’m not going to shell out $40 extra just for a trolley ride.”

We’ve received many more comments like this already, every one of them opposed to the increase. If you’d like to comment, send it here (MTABoard@sfmta.com), so it goes directly to the members of the SFMTA Board of Directors, who are taking public input now.

We’ll keep you up to date on this important issue.

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