Ouch. Another Buck For a Cable Car


Colorful. And expensive.

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.

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Dubious Tribute, Coming and Going

The other day, we showed you derelict PCC No. 1009, off for a total rebuilding as part of Muni’s contract with Brookville Equipment. Five PCCs, all original Muni vehicles, are getting that complete restoration. Another 11 PCCs that have been partly restored are part of the contract as well, getting completely rewired.
In the past couple of weeks, two of those 11 cars changed places. Their paint schemes look different, but both represent a controversial company. Starting shortly before World War II, a company named National City Lines (NCL) started buying up privately owned streetcar systems around the country and converted them to buses. NCL was financed by giant companies that made buses, tires, and fuel. They were convicted of conspiracy charges in Federal court but got off with a slap on the wrist.
(It must be said that most streetcar infrastructure, including cars, track, and power systems, was completely shot at that time, and rising costs had deprived private system owners of the capital to rebuild, but that’s a separate story for another time.)


No. 1080 arriving back in San Francisco June 24.

PCC No. 1080, back in San Francisco from the Pennsylvania contractor with new wiring, is painted in tribute to Los Angeles Transit Lines, renamed from Los Angeles Railway when NCL bought it in 1945. Unlike most of its other properties, though, NCL actually bought *new* streetcars in Los Angeles, identical to this body style, for its very busy Pico line in 1948.


PCC 1073 leaving for Brookville, June 5, 2011

This yellow green and white scheme was NCL’s standard. It was also applied to the operation they renamed El Paso City Lines, with streetcars that actually crossed the border into Juarez, Mexico. In the 1950s, though, these cars were repainted into a pea green and red scheme which is seen on Muni PCC No. 1073. This car recently left for Brookville for its rewiring. This leaves only three of the 1070-class streetcars operating in San Francisco, Nos. 1075, 1076, and 1077.
No. 1080 will soon enter testing, joining No. 1071 as the first rewired cars to return to San Francisco from Brookville. Muni is looking closely at the new door mechanisms in particular to ensure that the cars will hold up to heavy F-line service before accepting them from the contractor. No date is yet set for either 1071 or 1080 to enter passenger service.
National City Lines may not be a happy part of U.S. streetcar history, but it’s a significant part, and by next year we should see both examples of it on the streets of San Francisco.

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“I’m Ugly Now, But Just Wait…”

The last of Muni’s precious fleet of double-end PCC streamliner streetcars is now on the road, headed for Broookville, Pennsylvania and complete rebuilding under Muni’s contract to bring 16 more fully restored PCCs to San Francisco’s streets.
And boy, does this one need restoration.You could call it the ultimate test.
Quick background: Of the almost 5,000 PCC streetcars manufactured in the U.S. between 1936 and 1952, only about one percent was double-ended: the operator can just switch ends and go back the other way without the need for a track loop. The forthcoming E-line from Caltrain to Fisherman’s Wharf, promised in time for America’s Cup in 2013, needs double-end cars to start up.
Muni bought 10 of these rare double-enders in 1948; eight survived until retirement in the 1980s; one of these is now at a museum in Australia. Of the seven still in Muni hands, three are on the street now, painted in tribute liveries to cities that ran double-end PCCs (Nos. 1007, 1010, and 1015). The remaining four are part of the current contract with Brookville Equipment Company. Nos. . and 1008 went to Brookville first and should return later this year, both painted in their original 1948 Muni green and cream “Wings” livery. No. 1011 followed them east more recently and will return in a tribute livery to our namesake, Market Street Railway, Muni’s private competitor, which dreamed of ordering double-end PCCs but could never afford to. All of these double-enders, including No. 1009 (which will be painted in tribute to Dallas) are being completely rebuilt to like-new condition, but with modern communications capabilities and full accessibility.

No. 1009, shown here, is in by far the worst condition of the group. After retirement, it was stored outdoors on a Bay pier for almost 30 years. Vandals got into it and lit a fire at one point. Parts were stolen at other times. But these rare double-end vehicles are also among the highest capacity PCCs ever built, and thus valuable for E-line service. So, it was included in the bid package. These cars originally had wood and canvas roofs, a carryover from old streetcar practice. This accounts for the “sunroof” you see. When it’s rebuilt, it will have a steel roof, like the ones already restored.
The contract, covering complete rewiring of 11 PCCs and total rebuilding of five others, comes in at more than $18 million, averaging more than $1.1 million per car. By comparison, a new modern streetcar costs considerably more than twice that figure, and a new light rail vehicle (like Muni’s Breda LRVs) about four times as much.
All of the streetcars in the order are expected to be back and operational in time for America’s Cup. The single-end PCCs in the order will allow for increased service on the F-line, while the four double-end PCCs, plus the three already in service, will form the base fleet for the E-line, the tracks, wires, and stations for which are already in place, sharing the southern Embarcadero with N and T line LRVs and the northern Embarcadero with the F-line.

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How Cool Is This? Live F-line Map Shows Cars

Thanks to our friends at NextBus and the great liaison work of our webmaster Alex Zepeda, plus the graphic skills of our longtime designer David Dugan, we now have a live F-line map on our site where you can not only see where streetcars are on the F-line, but WHICH car is where. As the screenshot above shows, the icons Dave Dugan created for each streetcar now appear, along with the car number, to show you where they are on the line. It even shows where the cars are when they’re going to or from the F-line along the J-Church line. The rule is that streetcars are in service going to and from the carhouse, so you can ride them on the J-line. If you are ever told you can’t, please tell us so, and we’ll take it up with Muni.
This map is part of our new F-line live feature, which also provides a page with larger images of the cars on the line right now, which can be clicked to bring up a full profile of that car. And for those wondering what streetcars are in the shop right now, undergoing restoration, or awaiting restoration, well, we have a page for that too.
Thanks again to Michael Smith at NextBus and to Alex for their help on this. And special thanks to David Dugan, who created the icons for the streetcars that have become somewhat, well, iconic. In case you don’t know, we feature those icons on a variety of products at our San Francisco Railway Museum and here on our site, including a fleet poster with all the streetcar icons.

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Streetcars on Bernal Heights: Wednesday Talk

MSR board member Todd Lappin wears a gazillion hats. With his maven-of-Bernal-Heights hat on, he wrote a dandy blog post outlining a great free talk this Wednesday about the days of streetcars on Cortland Avenue. Rather than repeat Todd’s post here, we’ll just link to it (again). Check it out. Bit of a heavy heart on this one. It was scheduled to have been given by Market Street Railway’s historian, Phil Hoffman, but his sudden passing in April means that… — Read More

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Postcards from the Edge (of the F-line)

When we opened our San Francisco Railway Museum five years ago, we knew we had to offer things for sale to pay the bills (since admission is free). But we made a rule: no schlock. We wanted a place that San Franciscans would come to if they wanted a special home-town gift for friends and that visitors saw as a welcome respite from the relentless souvenir shop stuff. So, we focused on creating our own line of merchandise using images… — Read More

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More Auto Restrictions on Market Street?

A nice summary on SF Streetsblog about today’s SFMTA Board discussion on possible further restrictions on automobile traffic on Market Street east of 10th Street. Market Street Railway is a strong supporter of actions that speed F-line service (and other Muni lines) on Market. F-line boarding island at Fourth Street The current restrictions, which seem to have been accepted by everyone, including Downtown businesses, force eastbound automobiles to turn right at 10th and again at Sixth Street. But automobiles driving… — Read More

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