Boat Tram Marks Market Street’s New Era

Mayor London Breed (red suit) disembarking from the Boat Tram at Fourth Street after leading the celebration of a car-free Market Street.

Can a tram be entrancing? Sure seemed that way yesterday at the ceremony at the foot of Market Street celebrating the elimination of private automobiles on San Francisco’s main thoroughfare.

After an opening serenade by eight-time cable car bell ringing champ Byron Cobb and a round of speeches that included Mayor London Breed, SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin, and several mobility advocates (from Walk SF, the Bicycle Coalition and MSR’s Rick Laubscher), the celebrants boarded the vehicle SFMTA chose to symbolize the new era of Market Street. Not 1912 Car 1, Muni’s flagship streetcar. Not a PCC, the stalwart streetcar of the F-line. But the streetcar that makes everyone smile, Car 228, one of Muni’s two 1934 open-top “Boat Trams” from Blackpool, England.

(L-R) SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin, Mayor London Breed, and Boat “Captain” Angel Carvajal pose onboard during a stop.

Might seem like a detail, but it’s important. New SFMTA boss Tumlin said again at the event how much he loves the Boat Trams. He has already said publicly that he hopes to see them operate even more this coming summer than the two-day-a-week operation of last summer.

Then there’s the Mayor. She was guest of honor at our San Francisco Railway Museum ahead of last year’s Muni Heritage Weekend (August 22-23 this year, by the way). We were celebrating the return to the Sacramento-Clay cable car “Big 19”, which she rode — and continued to ride, beyond the pre-arranged place she was to get off. “Just one more block,” she said then.

“Ride with us up to the 30 stop”. Mayor Breed and new friends before boarding the Boat.

This year, same thing. Just before the Boat Tram left the “dock” on Steuart Street, she encountered a group of senior citizens looking on in curiosity. She asked where they were headed; they said ‘Chinatown’, and she responded, “Hop on. We’ll let you off where the 30 bus crosses.” (Love a mayor who knows the routes.) The mayor herself was supposed to get off at Second Street, and the police motorcycles had stopped for that. But the mayor motioned them onward, riding two more blocks to Fourth Street.

Maybe that’s because she was being given impromptu instruction on operating the Boat by ace Muni motorman Angel Carvajal. At the parade beginning, she was invited to step on the air whistle to start the show, and she proceeded to stand next to Angel headed up Market. He told her that Mayors Feinstein and Lee had operated vintage streetcars in the past and asked if she would like to try. She did, with gusto, letting Angel handle the controller while she operated the brake valve, quite smoothly.

Smiles for Miles: Rookie Operator and Instructor Angel Carvajal.

Bottom line: like a lot of “immigrants” over the past century and a half, the Boat Trams have found a lasting home here and are indisputably San Franciscan now. We at Market Street Railway are very proud that we brought both of them to San Francisco as gifts to Muni, and even prouder that they’ve become so beloved, not only by riders, but by SFMTA and city officials as well.

Gradually, we’re seeing more international streetcars making regular appearances on the E- and F-lines. Melbourne 496 (1929) was out in regular E-line service yesterday, while Brussels/Zurich “EuroPCC” 737 (1951) was on the F-line all day. And the boat itself starting picking up regular passengers after the mayor disembarked (at the direction of SFMTA transit chief Julie Kirschbaum), and then operated the rest of the day in regular service.

We do expect regular operation of the Boats this coming summer. We’ll keep you updated on the details. We’ll also be updating you on how car-free Market Street is working out, particularly for the F-line. Here’s a thoughtful piece on the possible challenges from the Chronicle’s urban design critic, John King.

Thanks to Phillip Pierce, Erica Kato, and all the others at SFMTA who make this celebration run as smoothly as, well, the Boat did.

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