Kids Priced Out of Cable Car Experience?

The very good Chronicle columnist, Heather Knight, raises a provocative question today, one that we have raised before.

In her column (which is behind a paywall, so we’re excerpting it below), she notes that many kids today are denied the unique experience of a cable car ride due to cost. Cable cars have fares separate from all other Muni services — and much higher. For example, to get from Downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf on an F-line historic streetcar would cost a family of four (two adults and two children five or older) $8.20 if they paid in cash on the streetcar or $7.50 using Muni Mobile. Riding a cable car between the same two points would cost that family $28.00 — more than three times as much. That’s because cable car fares are a flat $7.00 one way for anyone over 4 years old. And no transfers, either.

Here are some excerpts from Knight’s column:

Pretty much everything related to raising kids in San Francisco is too expensive. From buying a house to renting an apartment to affording groceries and child care, it all adds up. And up and up.

The fares for those charming symbols of San Francisco that climb halfway to the stars, as Tony Bennett so famously crooned, have blasted through the stratosphere. And unlike the rest of Muni’s public transportation system, there aren’t discounts for kids ages 5 to 18. Or transfers to get you back for free within 90 minutes…

Yes, to ride the cable cars from Powell and Market Streets to Fisherman’s Wharf and back just because it’s fun for kids and a quaint part of our city’s history will set that family back $56…

San Francisco isn’t even nickel-and-diming us anymore. Is “dollaring” a word? When it comes to City Hall and its fees, it should be.

“It’s extremely expensive,” acknowledged John Haley, director of transit for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “You can either eat for a day, feed your kids or ride the cable cars.”

Me? I’ll feed my kids.

Haley didn’t try to justify the fares, though he said the agency’s board is looking at a variety of fare adjustments. Revenue on the cable cars has actually dropped since the fare went up. I’m no economist, but gee, maybe the price should be lowered?…

Haley noted that operating the historic cable cars is very expensive and that while city residents with Clipper cards do ride the California line in big numbers, the Powell lines are used almost entirely by tourists ‘with fistfuls of money waiting to get on.’

Hmmm. Not the most visitor friendly comment we’ve heard lately, and sadly, it seems to show a management attitude that sees the cable cars as something other than an integral part of the Muni network. Haley also seemed to shrug off the long lines at the cable car turntables caused by layovers well in excess of what Muni’s labor contract stipulates.  “Schedule adherence is an issue for us,” Haley told Knight.

Back to Knight’s column:

As loyal readers of this column know, my 4-year-old is obsessed with all things Muni. Well, nearly all things Muni. The buses, the subway trains, the F-car? You bet. The cable cars? He’s ridden those maybe once or twice ever. While he’s free until his next birthday, it would still cost $42 for his older brother, my husband and me to ride with him round-trip…Muni should start giving free cable car rides to kids under 12 so long as they’re with a paying adult with proof of city residency.

The idea came from an email I received in response to the column on riding every Muni bus line in one day. David Kiely is a father of three boys and a South of Market resident.

‘It’s come up, more than once, that our kids have never ridden a cable car,’ Kiely wrote, noting his family is priced out and that kids shouldn’t be charged the full rate. ‘It’s a little thing that would mean a lot.’

Stacey Randecker Bartlett, a Potrero Hill mom of two kids, thinks all public transit in the city should be free for all kids. But a $14 round-trip ride on a cable car even for kids as young as 5?

“That’s insane,” she said.

She said San Francisco needs to decide whether the cable cars are purely a tourist attraction, in which case they should be removed from control of Muni and marketed as an amusement ride. Or if they’re actually public transportation, in which local families shouldn’t be charged the equivalent of a nice meal for riding.

“You just told that family, ‘Get in a car, get in an Uber, get in a Lyft, get in a taxi,’” she said. “For that rate, you could drive a family and park in the most pricey Union Square garage.”

To be fair, the free Muni program for low-income youth does allow them to ride cable cars for free, too. But it seems ridiculous that all other city kids have to pay $14 for a round-trip.

If Muni deems free cable car rides for all city kids unworkable, why not give discounts to San Francisco residents, like so many other tourist attractions do? Coit Tower’s elevator ride to the top costs $8 for non-resident adults and $6 for city residents. Kids ages 5 to 11 are charged just $2.

I finally took the boys there for the first time on Sunday (on the 39-Coit, of course), and the views were gorgeous. You can’t see dirty needles or smell urine from that high up. My 4-year-old peered out the windows on his tiptoes and said, “Let’s look for Muni buses!” The Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers and the Botanical Gardens all offer reduced or free admission for residents, too.

Justin Bass would support the change. The Lower Pacific Heights resident also has a 4-year-old Muni-obsessed son. His boy, Quincy, had a Muni-themed birthday party, spends his free time either riding buses or tracking them on the Next Bus app, and knows the names of his favorite drivers. There’s Keith from the 24-Divisadero, Ramsey from the 44-O’Shaughnessy and Shalisha from the 1-California.

But he doesn’t know the names of any cable car gripmen because he hardly ever rides cable cars. Let’s change that, shall we?

Yes. Let’s change that. Market Street Railway is letting Ms. Knight know we support her idea. Muni uncoupled cable car fares from bus and streetcar fares 35 years ago now, and has seemingly not missed an opportunity to squeeze more revenue from the cables. We’ve advocated for many years for lower cable car fares, especially for kids, because it has seemed to us that high fares discourage many families from getting that unique experience. But also, from the local angle, it’s critical that kids growing up in the Bay Area today be acquainted with all modes of public transit, the better to become regular users and advocates when they grow up. And currently, cable car fares that are more than five times higher than the kids’ fare on any other Muni vehicle discourages those kids from embracing this central part of our city’s transit heritage.

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“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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End of the B-Geary, 60 Years Ago

B-Geary last revenue run 122956 Jack Tillmany

 

On December 29, 1956, the last passenger-carrying streetcar ran on the tracks of Muni’s first street, Geary.  Muni became America’s first big city publicly owned transit system 44 years and one day earlier, on December 28, 1912, when it opened the A and B streetcar lines on Geary Street. Soon, four Muni lines were running along Geary from the Ferry Building via Market: the A, which went from the Ferries to Tenth Avenue, then south to Golden Gate Park; the B, which reached Ocean Beach and later Playland via 33rd Avenue, Balboa, 45th Avenue, and Cabrillo); the C, which turned north at Second Avenue then followed California Street west to 33rd Avenue; and the D, which turned north at Van Ness, then East on Union, jogging into the Presidio via Steiner and Greenwich.

last-b-geary-run-122956-wayne-pickering-motorman-copyThe Geary lines were Muni’s busiest by far. The B-line alone required more than 50 streetcars at peak hours. But that fact alone couldn’t save them. We reported on the factors that led to the demise of the B-Geary in 2002 in our exclusive member newsletter, Inside Track, and later posted here. (You can join Market Street Railway here to get this great quarterly newsletter, either electronically or in hard copy.)

These two photos come to us from Jack Tillmany through our friends at the Western Neighborhoods Project, showing the final passenger run of the B-Geary on December 29, 1956. Car 77, shown here, was not preserved but two other cars of the same class, both Geary veterans, 130 and 162, have been. So has the last PCC ever built in North America, Muni 1040, which carried a load of railfans out Geary the following day, December 30.

The bus line that replaced the B-Geary, the 38, has been Muni’s busiest bus line ever since, and Muni has been working for years to upgrade it to bus rapid transit, still a number of years in the future. Meantime, many San Franciscans continue to regret that streetcars ever left Geary, even 60 years after the fact.

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Support for Fort Mason Extension

209557 cov & TP.ai

The long-proposed historic streetcar extension west from Fisherman’s Wharf to Fort Mason Center is gaining momentum.

What you see above is how the terminal inside Fort Mason could look. The streetcars in the photo would turn left just before that wall at top and enter the historic 1914 railroad tunnel to reach Aquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf, then on to the Ferry Building and beyond.

Yesterday, the Citizens’ Advisory Committee to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency presented a unanimous resolution to the SFMTA Board of Directors supporting the extension. SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan responded with his own strong support for the extension.

Several members of the public added their public endorsement, including Marina District resident Mike Wilmar. Fort Mason Center Board Chair Jim Chappell recounted how the lack of direct Muni connections to regional transit such as BART and Caltrain makes it hard for many non-profit groups to base themselves at Fort Mason. Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher offered his opinion that the project may have been slow to take root within SFMTA staff because the environmental work, now complete, was performed by the National Park Service, whose property forms half the extension’s 0.85 miles. Now, though, with various obstacles cleared away, it’s time to move forward, he said.

The photo above is taken from the National Park Service’s Environmental Impact Statement. It’s a huge document, but you can download individual chapters, or the whole thing, here.

There is much more to this story, and we will have it for our Members in the next issue of our quarterly newsletter, Inside Track. (If you’re not a member, you can join now and get the current issue sent to you, or request it electronically.)  We will also post further developments in the story here. Also, there is a new Facebook group, independent of Market Street Railway, that also supports the extension. On Facebook, search for “@fortmasonstreetcar” or “Bring Streetcars to Fort Mason Project” and Like that page. Visible public support, especially from those who work and live along the route, in the Marina District, at Fort Mason, or in Fisherman’s Wharf, is critical to its success.

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“Super Bust 50”

“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… — Read More

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Van Ness H-line Poles Becoming History

One of the last significant remnants of Muni’s “H” streetcar line appears doomed. The concrete light standards along Van Ness Avenue, which also held up the H-line’s overhead wires (shown above, left at Eddy Street in 1948) have been cleared for replacement after a ruling by the city’s Board of Appeals validated SFMTA’s plans for the new Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. The concrete poles, with ornate streetlights attached, were installed with the original H-line tracks in 1914. The H-line was part of… — Read More

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Wires, Yes. Super Bowl Week Streetcars, Still No.

Social media and their news media followers seem to be celebrating yesterday’s announcement by the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee that they will not seek to take down Muni’s overhead wires on the first two blocks of Market Street after all in the week before the Super Bowl, when that area and the adjacent Justin Herman Plaza will be turned into a big party for the NFL and its corporate sponsors. But it seems they misunderstand exactly what happened.  Yes,… — Read More

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Red Lanes on Powell Seem to Work

Powell Street cable cars have some breathing room now, with the implementation of an 18-month test to ban private automobiles from Powell between Geary and Ellis Streets.  The SFMTA Board of Directors recently approved the plan, which Market Street Railway has been advocating for more than a year, and signage went up along with the signature red lanes San Francisco uses to denote “transit only.” While compliance with the new rules seems pretty good so far, part of that may… — Read More

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Switch to Cameron Beach Goes Smoothly

The historic streetcars are snug as a bug in a rug during this first rain of the season, now that they’re back at Cameron Beach Yard, their longtime (and we hope future) home during the current shutdown of the connection to the Muni Metro East storage yard. The historic cars’ trips going in and out of service again follow the J-Church line tracks from Balboa Park to 17th and Church. Ace photographer Curley Reed captured some great shots of the old… — Read More

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Cable Cars Get Green Light on Lower Powell

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board has voted to implement an 18-month trial that bans almost all private automobiles on lower Powell Street, from Ellis to Geary.  That two block stretch has been extra-jammed with cars in the past few years, a consequence of increased population and tourism and the closure of parallel Stockton Street for the construction of the Central Subway. We wrote about the problem recently, focusing on the wear and damage to the cable, and the… — Read More

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Boost for E-line Extension to Mission Bay, Dogpatch

Market Street Railway has been strongly advocating for extensions of the E-Embarcadero vintage streetcar line west from Fisherman’s Wharf to Fort Mason, and south from the Caltrain Depot at Fourth and King. The southern extension would use the existing T-line tracks via Fourth, Channel, and Third Streets to serve the proposed Giants’ Mission Rock development and Warriors’ Arena, UCSF Mission Bay, three new shoreline parks, and thousands of new residences now coming on line or in the pipeline in Mission Bay and… — Read More

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Better Cable Car Safety

With the strong support of Market Street Railway, Muni’s parent SFMTA is proposing an 18-month test that would remove everything but cable cars (and pedestrians) from lower Powell Street, specifically the two blocks between Ellis and Geary. Here’s a good Hoodline story with details. SFMTA recommends starting the test in November, but the Union Square Business Improvement District, led by Karin Flood, is concerned that the busiest shopping season is a bad time to implement changes, especially when seasonal shoppers will… — Read More

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Clearing Cars from Market Street

Market Street is fundamentally different today: private automobiles, including ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, are banned from turning onto the city’s main drag between Third and Eighth Streets. SFMTA, Muni’s parent, implemented the changes in support of the Safer Market Street initiative, designed to reduce the number of bicyclists and pedestrians hurt on Market. The Chronicle has a good story on this.  We thank them for the use of the photo above, by Liz Hafalia. The new… — Read More

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New Development Fee Could Benefit Streetcars

The City of San Francisco is proposing a new fee on new market rate condo and apartment construction that will raise an extra $14 million per year for transit. The Chronicle used an F-line streetcar passing a new upper Market development to illustrate the article about the fee. More than fitting, since every single new proposed residential development along Market for the past few years has used F-line streetcars in the illustrations of their proposed project. Clearly, the developers think the historic streetcars… — Read More

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Great E-line Startup Piece in The Examiner

  The Examiner’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez gave us a ring in the morning, asking for the history behind the E-line. Among other things, he was curious why the line is named E when it’s starting service 20 years after the F.  We explained that the E-Embarcadero was originally given that letter in 1979, when Muni Planning first included it in its Long Range Transit Plan (very long range, as it turned out). It was envisioned to run from Fort Mason to… — Read More

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