“Super Bust 50”

For three weeks, F-line streetcar riders from the Wharf had to transfer onto buses near the Ferry Building to reach destinations along Market Street, including the Castro. Many skipped the trip altogether.

For three weeks, F-line streetcar riders from the Wharf had to transfer onto buses near the Ferry Building to reach destinations along Market Street, including the Castro. Many skipped the trip altogether.

“Super Bust 50” is the headline of the new Castro Merchants monthly President’s Letter by Daniel Bergerac. You can read his entire letter here, but here’s the gist.

As the Super Let Down after Super Bowl 50 starts to fade, let’s remember who is going to end up paying the biggest price for Santa Clara hosting this huge sporting event – – we are: local merchants, especially in The Castro.  But, we are not alone, we hear, as local merchant associations all over San Francisco report down, soft revenues during SB50.  From all over The Castro and Upper Market neighborhood, I’ve heard from fellow merchants.  The nine days of official SB50 events in the City ballooned, for us, into over three weeks of SB50-related interruptions.  Customer traffic (locals and visitors alike) and revenues were some of their slowest on record during what had been promised as a “busy time.”   Nightmare predictions of over-crowded streets and traffic jams kept Bay Area local folks out of San Francisco.  Running “Bustitues” instead of the F Line historic streetcars between The Castro and Ferry Building for over three weeks further hurt our area’s local and visitor traffic and revenues.

It’s really important to point out that SFMTA leadership was not consulted before the City made the decision to shut down those easternmost three blocks of Market Street for three weeks, crippling the F-line and Muni bus service in the area.  Once they were handed a fait accompli, Muni staff worked hard to make transit work as well as possible.  They were responsive to the concerns the Castro Merchants — and we at Market Street Railway — expressed about the prolonged replacement of historic streetcars with buses on Market Street.  They agreed with our recommendation that the transfer between the substitute Market Street buses and the streetcars (which remained in service between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building) be as easy and intuitive as possible. They put out lots of staff to help people make the transfer, next to our museum on Don Chee Way, the right-of-way linking Steuart Street to The Embarcadero). They put signage in Metro stations and on vehicles promoting the Castro as a destination for Super Bowl visitors. (We gladly did the same at our museum.)

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Shops and restaurants still suffered because only a small percentage of Super Bowl City visitors bought anything outside the event barricades, and because many regular workers and visitors stayed away after the repeated warnings of congestion. Our own San Francisco Railway Museum, right next to Super Bowl City, saw our sales of souvenirs drop 56% — more than half — over the same week in 2015, during  the week they were taking Super Bowl City down, but the F-line was still being “bustituted” on Market. Even the week Super Bowl City was open to the public, our sales ran 12% below the previous year, despite our efforts to play up football connections to transit at the museum and reintroduction of a Kezar Stadium dash sign tee-shirt aimed at fans.

The city has not finished adding up the net economic impact of the Super Bowl events in San Francisco, and it may be that additional hotel taxes and the like will more than compensate for the reduced take of sales taxes the city will get from the small businesses in the Castro and elsewhere who saw their sales fall off.

One clear lesson from this event: buses are no substitute for the F-line streetcars on a long-term basis. It has been shown over and over, in city after city: visitors do not trust, or feel comfortable on buses (with the possible exception of iconic vehicles like London’s red double-deckers). In San Francisco, the cable cars and historic streetcars, yes. Every time buses are substituted en masse for the cable cars and streetcars, ridership plummets. For so many people, the journey on these wonderful “time machines” is as important as the destination. And so, when buses replace historic rail, businesses along the lines, and especially near the terminals, suffer.

We hope the powers-that-be in San Francisco includes the community more thoroughly in planning for future events. Looking at the layout and extent of Super Bowl City, they clearly could have set it up in a way that could have kept the F-line streetcars running up Market Street to the Castro. That could have been a win-win.

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Muni Heritage Weekend September 24-25

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SFMTA Director of Transportation John Haley has confirmed Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25 as Muni Heritage Weekend 2016, co-sponsored by SFMTA and Market Street Railway.

More details are soon to come, but we know that special vintage streetcars will operate on both the E-Embarcadero and F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar lines. Vintage buses will offer free rides downtown, and 1906 O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car No. 42 (restored by MSR and Muni) will operate on the California Street cable car line. Hours of operation for all the vintage vehicles are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. both days.

Additionally, we’ll have a special memorabilia sale and presentations at our San Francisco Railway Museum, from which the vintage buses will leave.

Again, more details coming soon, but for you friends of vintage San Francisco transit who live across the country or an ocean, start making your plans now!

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E is NOT for Excellent This Weekend

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After three weeks without the E-Embarcadero streetcars, they came back this weekend. Sort of.

The E-line, which currently runs weekends only from 10 a.m.-7 p.m., was scrubbed during the Super Bowl period. Its tracks weren’t blocked (unlike the Market Street portion of the F-line), but Muni operations felt that the extra service they planned on the N and T lines would conflict with the E-line, so they dinged it.

Yesterday, the E’s first day back, service was crippled because two of the five scheduled operators called in sick. Muni has an ample “extra board” of operators in all divisions to cover this common occurrence, but every one of the extra board operators was sent out to drive an F-line bus instead.  (The F-line was “bustituted” this weekend.)

This left three E-line streetcars to cover the entire route on Saturday, February 13. And that wasn’t just a normal day — it was the Giants’ FanFest at AT&T Park, an annual event that draws tens of thousands of visitors. The E-line is supposed to run every 15 minutes.  With only three cars, gaps of 45 minutes were common. Sometimes even longer. Around Noon, all three E-line cars were on the south 20 percent of the line (below Brannan Street), leaving no service between there and Fisherman’s Wharf. (Update: Sunday was better. All five E-line runs made it to the street.)

We don’t know why Muni chose to cut E-line service Saturday when they should know that F-line demand goes down when buses substitute for streetcars. The F-line would have been fine if they ran 15 buses yesterday instead of 17.  That would have been a 12% reduction in F-line capacity, as opposed to the 40% reduction in E-line capacity from the switch.

The de facto E-line service cut came one day after Market Street Railway leaders met with top SFMTA operations and planning staff to discuss seven-day service on the E-line, now slated to begin in late April. While those events aren’t directly connected, it does point up the need for a clear commitment on SFMTA Operations’ part to ensuring the scheduled service actually reaches the street.  The E-line cannot succeed when the streetcars don’t show up…which unfortunately has been a regular occurrence on the E.

We will continue to work closely with SFMTA to improve reliability of E-line service.

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F-line Streetcars Back On Market. For One Day. Maybe.

SFMTA just issued this news release, proclaiming that the teardown of Super Bowl City has been completed a day early, so Muni service on lower Market Street is resuming tonight (Thursday, February 11). That should include F-line streetcars, though the announcement doesn’t make that explicit.

In any event, if the streetcars do return to Market on Friday the 12th, it’s only for a visit. Because they’ll be taken off the street AGAIN this coming weekend, February 13 and 14, with buses substituting the entire F-line route this time, so that Steuart Street can be closed while Visa disassembles its corporate skybox on the rooftop of the One Market building podium and cranes the pieces down to the street.

(We’re not sure just what that corporate skybox was for. A venue for big shots to eat and drink while they looked down on — what, people milling around Super Bowl City? The Ferry Building clock? Well, we’re sure they had a swell time, whatever they were looking at.

Be thankful for that swell time someone else had while you ride the F-line bus this weekend.

At least the Super Bowl snafus will FINALLY be over for the F-line after this weekend.  And, oh yes, the E-Embarcadero streetcar service will resume this weekend as well, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., between Fisherman’s Wharf and Caltrain. Although Muni has cancelled that service so many weekends for so many alleged reasons, it’ll be a miracle if anyone knows to ride it.  At least we’re doing our part.

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Postgame Parade

The Super Bowl ended this football season, but we’ll go into overtime for a minute to share a special football-related photo. We’re at the end of the N-Judah line at Ocean Beach. Based on the clues in the photo, it’s between 1955 and 1957. PCC “torpedo” No. 1015 is about to take the loop and head inbound. It’s been converted from double-end to single-end operation, hence the blocked-off doors you see. On the stub track sit two “B type” original… — Read More

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