Yeah, I hear the cynicism now. “Who cares? Milk the tourists.” But the increase in the cable car fare from $5 to $6, effective Friday, July 1, just yanks these vehicles further out of their traditional role as part of the transit system.
If you just walked past the turntables of the Powell lines in summer, you’d reach the conclusion that no locals ride the cable cars. And relatively few do, midday in tourist season on Powell Street. But that leaves a whole lot of other times when locals do ride.
And then there’s the California line, where there’s almost always room to hop aboard. Traditionally, it has been the “locals’ line”: a ride that’s actually got a lot more interesting architecture to see than the Powell lines (though not that unforgettable sight of Alcatraz as you plunge down the Hyde Street hill, and no ” ‘kowt-fa-da-kurve” either).
When I worked on lower Market Street and lived on Russian Hill (okay, Polk Gulch), I’d hike up to Hyde early in the morning and enjoy an exhilarating ride with other commuters on a Powell-Hyde car, either changing at California for the plunge through Chinatown (if there was a car in sight — you never knew on California when the operators would decide to hold their daily conventions at the Market Street end of the line, leaving one car actually in operation at a time) — or staying on the Powell car and hiking down Post to the office.
Early evenings in the summertime were non-starters for this commuter to try to grab a Powell car, but I could ride a half-empty Cal car home over Nob Hill and hike up Polk (or, if it was raining too hard, transfer to the 19).
Since Muni separated the cable car fare from bus and streetcar fares some years ago (more than doubling cable car fares in the process), a local just can’t make that commute affordably without a Fast Pass (or its equivalent on the Clipper Card). Just having a cash balance on the Clipper gets you zip, because they don’t take Clipper on the cable cars UNLESS the Fast Pass is loaded on it. You’ve got to pay cash. And, of course, no transfer if you need a bus to get to your destination. For daily commuters, okay, load a Fast Pass on Clipper (if you can afford a $62 payment every month in one bite). But for locals who ride occasionally, tough luck.
Yeah, we’ve got a soft spot for the Cal cars. You can buy this poster or notecards or magnets of it by going to our store tab up top.
We’ve been advocating that Muni at least allow fare receipts to be used to transfer between Powell and California cars at that intersection. Such restricted transfers were once common in San Francisco transit and might do at least a little to encourage a little more ridership on the California line. For our part, we’re interested in promoting more use of the California line, but few visitors are going to be willing to change lines when there are no transfers AND no discounts for kids.
Think about it. A one-way ride to or from the Wharf for a family of four is now $24. Change cars at Powell and California to roll past Chinatown and through the Financial District, or past the Flood Mansion and Grace Cathedral, your family’s out almost 50 bucks!
Yes, there are alternatives. You can buy a one day Muni Passport, giving you unlimited access to cable cars, buses, and streetcars, for $14 (so $56 for a family of four). Oddly, Muni offers a separate “Cable Car All-Day Pass” at the same price, without access to the F-line, Metro, buses, etc. What’s the point of that? Just more printing and administration costs, seems to me.
Bottom line: we think there’s more justification than ever to cut people at least a small break and let ’em transfer between the two cable car lines at Powell and California. Or maybe they’ve just decided we’re back in the early Disneyland days: an “E-ticket” only gets you one ride.
A thought: since the cable cars are a wholly separate division from everything else at Muni (unlike the F-line, which is part of Green Division along with most of the Metro service), and since the fares are completely separate from everything else at Muni, do you think the time has come to quit the charade and contract them out to an attraction operator?
There. That oughta get the comment meter ticking.
By the way, while the basic cash fare for historic streetcars, Metro, and buses stays the same ($2 for adults, 75 cents for youth (5-17 years), seniors (65+) and disabled), a bunch of other fares and fees have gone up too. Here’s the SFMTA press release with a link at the bottom to a PDF summarizing the increases.