“Service Improvement” on the F-line? You decide.

If you’re riding the F-line this sunny Saturday morning, you’ll find fewer streetcars out there, and longer wait times. But not to worry, it’s a “service improvement.”  Who says so? Muni.

Muni’s parent, SFMTA, sent out a blog post entitled “More Muni Forward Service Improvements Roll Out”. The F-line is mentioned. But when you click through to the story, it’s, well, a different story.

After listing other “improvements” (including cutting back a major crosstown bus line to eliminate transfers to the 14-Mission), they take on the F-line.  “As we fine-tune service to better match demand, a few routes with extra capacity will also see reductions in service, [including the] F Market & Wharves line in the morning and afternoon.” Well, we see the F-line every single day, with every car passing by our San Francisco Railway Museum. Tell the folks stuffed on board the cars about the “extra capacity” they don’t need.

Oh, but wait, Muni then goes on to explain: “Note on the F Line: In recent months we’ve seen issues with streetcars and buses crowding at the line’s terminal at 17th and Market streets. This slight reduction in service frequency is expected to help make the line more reliable.” Huh? If the streetcars are crowding the terminal, it’s because of poor line management. And who is responsible for that? The riders?

Beyond the facts of the rollout, there’s the way it was done — with zero public outreach. After this story was posted, we got an angry call from the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District leadership, asking what we knew about it. The answer: nothing, because we learned about it from the public notice along with everyone else. Turns out the Castro Merchants weren’t informed either. So there was no chance for suggestions of other ways to solve whatever issues might have arisen.

After we learned of this, we did call Muni service planner Julie Kirschbaum, who told us something different than what the official release said. She said the issue was a shortage of both streetcars and trained operators for the F-line. But the fact is that there is not a shortage of streetcars for current operations, and Muni has gotten around the training issue, which has now dragged on for over a year, by assigning buses to regular F-line runs. Has that changed? We weren’t told.

In any event, we are going to be looking very closely at this, working toward further adjustments at the next sign-up period in a couple of months, and advocating for F-line service improvements that are actually improvements. We’ll keep you posted.

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Stunning Composite Photographs

 

This isn’t new, but if you haven’t seen these wonderful composite photographs by San Francisco photographer Sean Clover, you’re in for a treat.

These are just a couple of them, comparing the damage caused by the 1906 earthquake and fire with the exact same location today.

Above, the gate of the cable car barn on Washington Street just east of Mason, showing how Car 155 was crushed by falling bricks. Within a few hours of the original photograph, it and all its mates from the Powell Street cable lines would be incinerated. (They were replaced by cable cars used on the Sacramento-Clay lines, stored out of the fire zone. Some of these cars, much rebuilt, are still on the Powell lines today.)

Below, two of the California Street cable cars of the type built in 1907 to replace the ones destroyed in the earthquake pass between Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, with 1906 rubble from Nob Hill to the right.

 

We’re lucky to live in a city with artists as talented as Sean Clover.

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E-line Problem Discourages Riders

A technical problem with a switch near the southern E-line terminal has forced certain streetcars to skip the final stop at Caltrain, discouraging some riders from using the service.

As it was explained to us by Muni management, two of the seven double-end PCC streetcars assigned to the E-line have problems reversing at the Sixth and King Streets terminal because of a fault in a switch. The other five PCCs are able to bypass the problem by cutting power and coasting through the switch, but Cars 1009 (above, photo by Paul Lucas) and 1015 (below) do not coast freely enough to reliably clear the switch. It is a very odd problem, like nothing we’ve heard before. Muni management claims they are working to diagnose the problem with the switch and fix it.

In the meantime, Muni maintenance has pulled out all the stops to keep those two cars off the E-line as much as they can, but it’s not always possible. Yesterday (February 1), both 1009 and 1015 were on the line, with blank destination signs when heading southbound, and cards in the windshield stating their final destination was the ballpark stop at Second and King Streets. The cars then turn left at Fourth Street onto the T-line and reverse at the crossover on Channel Street, across the Fourth Street Bridge (below).

What this means is that riders waiting for a Wharf-bound E-line car at the Caltrain stop face a double headway when these cars are in service, since they can’t make the Caltrain stop. Given the problems Muni has had keeping regular headways on the E-line anyway, this can mean a wait of up to an hour between Wharf-bound E-line trains for riders. Muni has put up signs at the Caltrain E-line stop alerting riders to this problem and suggesting they walk (or take an N-Judah) two blocks east to the Second and King stop instead.

Market Street Railway has strongly recommended that Muni address this problem by assigning double-end vintage cars to the E-line to provide steady, reliable service to all stops. Melbourne 496, New Orleans 952 (shown below in 2008), and Muni cars No. 1 and 130, all on the active roster, have all used the Sixth and King terminal during earlier E-line demonstration service without incident.

Muni, however, has responded to our recommendation by saying that because of its continuing shortage of qualified streetcar operators — a problem that has gone on for well over a year now — it is unable to supply the second crew member (a conductor) required on those particular streetcars. (Substituting buses for streetcars on the E-line is not an option because the right-of-way south of the Ferry Building is paved in a way that is rougher than the F-line right-of-way north of the Ferry Building, making bus operation unfeasible.)

While we appreciate that Muni didn’t cancel these E-line runs altogether, this erratic service pattern on the E-line discourages the growth of ridership, especially among residents along the line looking for a reliable service. We will keep you up to date on this problem.

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