Celebrating New Buses

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Right up front, we’ll say this is an unusual post for us, since we are and will continue to be a historic preservation organization. But we are also strong supporters of delivering the best possible public transit in San Francisco. That’s why we want to take a minute to congratulate the leadership of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on their stunning bus modernization program.

Led by the SFMTA Board chaired by Tom Nolan, Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, and Director of Transit John Haley, the SFMTA has turned Muni’s bus fleet from an aging, scattered, and frankly ugly bunch of vehicles into a sleek, green, and homogeneous group of trolley coaches and motor coaches.

Historically, Muni procured buses in a disjointed manner, constrained by past practices and an overly complicated process that often included demands for custom features rather than proven design and technology. The current leadership team pushed hard to simplify and accelerate the procurement process, using innovative ideas such as “piggybacking” their order on another city’s (Seattle, in the case of trolley coaches) to get faster delivery and economies of scale.

All the new coaches come from New Flyer Industries of Winnipeg. The SFMTA board last week approved the purchase of 33 additional 60-foot articulated zero emission trolley coaches (shown above) to join 60 already here.  There are also 225 60-foot hybrid-electric motor coaches and 200 40-foot standard motor coaches already here or on order. Later this year, Muni will order 40-foot standard zero emission trolley coaches as well, completing the program.

The new buses are all over the city, further lowering Muni’s carbon footprint, already among the lowest of any major bus operator in North America.  A few of the 60-foot motor coaches even did recent emergency fill-in duty on the T-Third line briefly when LRV service was disrupted (below).

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Kudos to the SFMTA leadership team for this dramatic overhaul of Muni’s bus fleet. (We now resume our regular historic programming. 🙂 )

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Take a Trolley Tour on the Last PCC May 22

whatmighthavebeen-8-frazierMarket Street Railway and San Francisco City Guides are again collaborating on a memorable vintage streetcar ride along Muni’s historic F-line. The spring tour is Sunday, May 22, 1:30-3:30pm on-board the last PCC built in North America for Muni in 1952, offering views of the sights and sounds along the F-line on Market Street and The Embarcadero.

No. 1040 has been faithfully restored to its 1950s appearance, looking just like this shot of a charter at the end of 1956 at Geary and Market, when it closed out service on the B-line. It’s a great match for the historic architecture en route, including Lotta’s Fountain and the Palace Hotel in this photo.

Join tour guides Ethan Chickering from City Guides and Paul Lucas from Market Street Railway on one of our priceless “museums in motion” for their informative ride along the F-line where you will learn interesting historical facts about famous Fisherman’s Wharf, traditional North Beach, the scenic Embarcadero, colorful Ferry Plaza, the busy financial district, world famous Powell & Market, classic Civic Center, imposing Mint Hill and the lively Castro.

Sign up today for $40 per person. (Market Street Railway members receive a 25% discount, well beyond the usual 10% member discount on merchandise.) Seating capacity is limited. Your ticket purchase provides the funds required to charter the streetcar from Muni, so all ticket sales must be final. All proceeds go to support Market Street Railway and City Guides in their work to keep San Francisco’s transit history alive.

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Say Hey! Say Willie!

Left to right, Willie Mays, Mayor Ed Lee, Giants President and CEO Larry Baer, and SFMTA Board Member Malcolm Heinecke chat in front of Willie's cable car No. 24 before the dedication ceremony.

Left to right, Willie Mays, Mayor Ed Lee, Giants President and CEO Larry Baer, and SFMTA Board Member Malcolm Heinecke chat in front of Willie’s cable car No. 24 before the dedication ceremony.

 

A great event at the Cable Car Barn May 6 to celebrate the 85th birthday of the incomparable Willie Mays. How incomparable? President Obama sent a video tribute calling him “the greatest living ballplayer,” great enough for the president to award Mays the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year.

Why the Cable Car Barn? To “bring together two moving national landmarks”, as President Obama said. He noted that San Francisco’s cable cars were named the first national historic landmark that moved, “except for Willie running the bases.” The president’s fandom was plain to see, as was that of the invitation-only in-person audience that came to see cable car 24 (naturally) dedicated to No. 24, Willie Mays.

President Obama speaks via video at the dedication of cable car 24 to Willie Mays.

President Obama speaks via video at the dedication of cable car 24 to Willie Mays.

SFMTA Board Member Malcolm Heinecke, who is also Mays’ personal attorney, thought of the tribute. Market Street Railway helped SFMTA implement it by providing the car’s history, which turns out to be wonderfully appropriate.

Originally built in 1887 for the Ferries & Cliff House Railway, the original owner of the Powell cable lines, Car 24 received its last major renovation by Muni crafts workers in 1958, the year the Giants — and Willie Mays — moved to San Francisco from New York. It’s also the only cable car to go on a “road trip” will still in active service with Muni — representing San Francisco at the big Chicago Railroad Fair in 1949 (where it actually operated on a short stretch of specially-built cable track) and to the Shriner’s Convention in Los Angeles in 1950.

Following a speech by Mayor Ed Lee, officials unveiled a photo blow up of a new plaque mounted on the car honoring Mays. Then everyone piled onto Car 24 for a ceremonial ride that included a very rare, probably unprecedented moment: reversing the car on the  barn’s motorized turntable with a full load to point it to the exit gate on Washington Street. Click the black video box below to see it.

Then Car 24 and guests were off for a brief trip “around the horn”, as cable car folk describe the non-revenue turn left on Powell from Washington used to put cable cars into and out of service. Willa Johnson, one of Muni’s two female gripmen, took the controls for the run. The Chronicle’s Steve Rubenstein wrote a great story on the whole event. Again, click the black box below to watch Car 24 leave the barn for the first time as “the Willie Mays cable car.”

It was great to see Willie Mays ringing the conductor’s bell on his cable car, and even more to see the outpouring of genuine affection for someone who has been a positive symbol of San Francisco to millions of people — just as the cable cars have.

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