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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.
 

No Streetcars on F-line This Weekend

A combination of events has left the F-line without streetcar service on one of the biggest visitor weekends of the year, July 25-26. You’ll only see buses on the F-line all weekend.

The historic streetcars’ overnight base was moved last month to Muni Metro East, just off Third Street and the T-line, to allow rails to be replaced near their long-time home at Cameron Beach Yard across town. This means that the historic streetcars now enter and leave F-line service via tracks along the southern Embarcadero. The last two blocks of these tracks, from Howard Street to the F-line tracks just south of Market, were built for the future E-line and had not been used in regular service. So, for several years now, they have been used by the San Francisco Marathon as a staging area.

It was too late to change that for this year’s Marathon, which starts Sunday morning, but Muni has told the Marathon organizers that they will have to find an alternative location by next year’s event, because the E-line is slated to be in regular weekend service by then.

Market Street Railway was not aware of this operating conflict until last week. We don’t know when Muni, the owner-operator of the F-line, first learned of it, but in any event, the Marathon had a firm contract in place and is an important part of the summer scene in the City. But the streetcars are too, so it’s unfortunate that this conflict is keeping the streetcars off the streets this weekend.

Months before either we or the Marathon organizers knew that the streetcars were to move their base, we got together at the Marathon’s initiative, and created mile markers for the runners that celebrate the historic streetcars, using the graphic images created by our ace designer David Dugan. So a touch of irony there.

The Marathon has also made a generous donation to Market Street Railway, for which we thank them. We and the Marathon organizers agree the streetcars themselves, not just images, should be on the street when the race runs in 2015 and beyond.

F-line PCCs Move to Metro East on Friday

Muni’s 32 streamlined PCC streetcars will move their home base from Cameron Beach Yard to Muni Metro East (MME) at Illinois and Cesar Chavez Streets this Friday, June 20, and will operate out of MME starting Saturday. The ten Milan trams have been operating out of MME for almost two years.

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Milan trams stored together with LRVs at Muni Metro East shortly after their move there, August 2012. Peter Ehrlich photo.

The move is tied to major track replacement at Muni’s Curtis E. Green Light Rail Facility, across the street from Cameron Beach Yard at San Jose and Geneva Avenues, and for the tracks leading into Beach Yard as well. The work will be done in phases, and storage space at Beach Yard is needed for light rail vehicles while their home is being renovated. As of now, the one-of-a-kind historic streetcars, such as Muni No. 1, Melbourne No. 496, New Orleans No. 952, and the Blackpool boat trams, will remain based at Cameron Beach Yard, where they will be protected by the canopy Market Street Railway advocated for many years, and which was completed three years ago.

Market Street Railway is in continuing discussions with Muni’s parent, SFMTA, about creating the best permanent environment to store and maintain the historic streetcars.

F-line streetcars will now use the T-line on Third and King Streets and The Embarcadero to reach the F-line tracks. They will not be picking up passengers on trips to and from MME.

We’ll have much more on this for our members in our next issue of our newsletter, Inside Track, out next month. And we’ll keep you updated here as well.

Muni Operator Shortage Hits F-line

Muni is currently facing a systemwide operator shortage, according to this article in today’s San Francisco Examiner.

This situation is not new, but it appears to be getting worse. It affects all modes of Muni vehicles, including the historic streetcars. And based on anecdotal evidence we’ve received, it’s not just the quantity of people applying to be operators, it’s the quality as well. We were told by authoritative sources that recently a higher percentage of prospective F-line operators have been washing out of training than previously.

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Which way do I go?

One issue in particular surprised us: in one class, a high percentage of trainees were unable to tell which way a switch was set. In other words, from the operator’s position, looking directly at the switch points right in front of them, they couldn’t tell which direction their streetcar would go as they proceeded through the switch. This is really a question of basic visual perception and of course would make one wonder what else they can’t discern on the street.

We’re glad Muni Training is maintaining its standards for all operators. We hope they’re able to recruit enough candidates to fill the vacancies throughout the system, but as that Examiner article and others have recently pointed out, it’s getting harder and harder to find workers for what have traditionally been middle-class jobs in San Francisco as the city gets ore expensive.

In the meantime, the shortage is making an increasing impact on the F-line. We’re told that the extra streetcars added to the schedule recently to cope with the increasing loads are being cancelled, since they were rarely filled due to lack of qualified operators. We’re told that buses will be added to the F-line starting June 23 to try to help out, though streetcar-seeking riders have in the past let the buses go by, so they usually end up carrying few people.

This is an unfortunate development as we hit the peak of visitor season.

Last Restored Double-End PCC Joins Active Fleet

The last of its class is now back in service, fully restored.

Muni was one of the few transit agencies that owned PCC streetcars that could be operated in regular service from either end. These double-end streetcars had significantly more flexibility than their much more common single-end cousins. Muni purchased a group of ten from St. Louis Car Company in 1948 and added them to a group of five similar-looking cars that were not technically PCCs, purchased in 1939.

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PCC No. 1011 on Market Street during testing, May 5, 2014. Copyrighted photo by Peter Ehrlich

The ten bought in 1948, known inside Muni as “torpedoes,” because of their extra length and shape, were oddly assigned to lines, such as the N-Judah, that didn’t need double-end cars, and were soon converted to operate as single-end cars. In that capacity, these cars, Nos. 1006-1015, soldiered on through the early 1980s. Two, Nos. 1012 and 1013, were scrapped along the way, and one, No. 1014, was put on permanent loan by Muni to a museum in Australia. The other seven though, survived, and now, the last of these, No. 1011, has finished testing following a full restoration and is available for regular service.

This car is painted in tribute to our namesake organization, Muni’s old competitor Market Street Railway Company (MSRy), which dreamed of owning modern streetcars like the PCC in the late 1930s, but could never afford them. The striking livery features the solid white ends that were a trademark of MSRy, and its “zip stripe” on the sides echoes what they put on some of their old streetcars to make them look, well, zippy. It has garnered many positive comments on the street during testing. Some have said it is also a fitting livery because today’s Market Street Railway led advocacy efforts to preserve and then restore this special group of historic streetcars.

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No. 1011 on its way out of town for restoration in 2010. It had been in storage for almost 30 years and had been vandalized in that time.

Three of the other six restored double-end PCCs are in Muni livery (No. 1010 in the blue and gold of the original double-end 1939 streamliners) and Nos. 1006 and 1008 in the green and cream “wings” 1948 livery in which they were delivered.) The others pay tribute to other cities that ran double-ended PCCs. You can explore the story of each of these streetcars by clicking here.

No. 1011 entered passenger service at 9 a.m., May 15, 2014. Keep an eye out for No. 1011 on the street by following the live F-line map, and go ride it while it still has that “new car smell.”

Welcome back to the fleet, No. 1011.

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.

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First Rewired PCC Starts Carrying Passengers

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