Great E-line Startup Piece in The Examiner

Right after this shot was snapped, Mayor Dianne Feinstein (left) took the controls of Muni Car No.1 and personally piloted it down Market Street to open the first Trolley Festival in June 1983. That success led to the permanent F-line, and now the E-line.

Right after this shot was snapped, Mayor Dianne Feinstein (left) took the controls of Muni Car No.1 and personally piloted it down Market Street to open the first Trolley Festival in June 1983. That success led to the permanent F-line, and now the E-line.

 

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 the Caltrain Depot along the waterfront, following the old State Belt freight railroad route, an idea first proposed a decade earlier by San Francisco Tomorrow. The following year, they included the F-Market in their plan from the Ferry to Castro.

We explained to Joe that the Market line was dubbed F, simply because it followed E in the alphabet.  (Both had originally belonged to vanished Muni streetcar lines, the E-Union (now the 41 bus) and F-Stockton (now the 30 bus)). We also told him that some believed the “F” was for Feinstein, since then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein made the F-line a reality by personally championing the summer demonstration Trolley Festivals of the 1980s on Market.  (And by the way, we would be the first to sign up by making the F-for-Feinstein line official!)

Still, we were blown away to see such a strong endorsement of Market Street Railway’s advocacy for the E-line from now-Senator Feinstein in the Examiner article.

The story accurately portrays SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin’s role in bringing the E-line to reality.  We also pointed out the roles of his team in supporting the E-line startup, noting that bringing any new transit line into service is a complex task. And we singled out other community leaders, such as key waterfront businesses and neighborhood groups, and Dr. Mimi Silbert, President of Delancey Street Foundation, who have been staunch E-line supporters.

We also mentioned the key roles of Mayor Art Agnos and the late Doug Wright, his transportation deputy mayor (and later Market Street Railway board chair), in ensuring that the F-line tracks were connected to the extension of the Muni Metro subway along the Southern Embarcadero, completing that physical connection for the E-line. Those things, though, like the origin of the E and F designations, didn’t make the story, but understandably so, given its impressive length already.

We were also pleased to see that the Ex highlighted our call for volunteer docents to work the first few weekends of the E-line, starting August 1. You can sign up at volunteer@streetcar.org.  We thank MSR Board Chair Bruce Agid and Board Member Katie Haverkamp for their leadership in organizing our support for SFMTA in conjunction with the E-line’s opening.

Watch this space, and the SFMTA website, for more information on E-line startup activities.

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Training for E-line Under Way

Vintage 1948 double-end PCC streetcars Nos. 1006 (left) and 1011 pass just south of the Ferry Building during E-line training, July 1, 2015

Vintage 1948 double-end PCC streetcars Nos. 1006 (left) and 1011 pass just south of the Ferry Building during E-line training, July 1, 2015

Think of it as a dress rehearsal: double-ended historic streetcars cruising the length of The Embarcadero, running along both the F-line tracks (from the Wharf to the Ferry Building) and the N- and T-line tracks (from Folsom Street past AT&T Park and on to the Caltrain Depot at Fourth and King Streets.

With only an operator and Muni training staff on board.

These streetcars are getting ready for the formal launch of the long-awaited E-Embarcadero vintage streetcar line, which begins weekend operation on Saturday, July 25 August 1, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.  Seven-day operation will follow early in 2016.

PCC No. 1006 makes a practice stop at the low-level E-line platform at Harrison Street northbound, July 1, 2015

PCC No. 1006 makes a practice stop at the low-level E-line platform at Harrison Street northbound, July 1, 2015

So if you see these historic streetcars with the “Training Car” or “Not In Service” signs along The Embarcadero, now you know why.

Give them a friendly wave!

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E-Line Startup Looks Set for July 25

E-line car No. 1008 in 2013 Demonstration Service at its Caltrain Depot terminal.

E-line car No. 1008 in 2013 Demonstration Service at its Caltrain Depot terminal.

As readers of our member newsletter, Inside Track, learned last month, Muni’s second historic streetcar line, the long-awaited E-Embarcadero, now looks set to start up for initial weekend-only service on July 25.  Officials of SFMTA, Muni’s parent, were comfortable sharing that date with local blog Hoodline.

UPDATE: E-line startup moved to August 1.

The E-line, providing single-seat service the length of The Embarcadero, from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Giants ballpark and the Caltrain Depot, has been a goal of Market Street Railway and other advocates for more than 20 years.  It will share F-line boarding platforms between the Wharf and Ferry Building, and use separate low-level platforms and ADA ramps (built ten years ago) at the four N- and T-line stops from Folsom to Caltrain. All stops will be fully accessible.

The weekend-only service will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with E-line cars running every 20 minutes. It will acquaint operators with the route and optimize the sharing of the trackage with the other lines that use it, while providing time to train the additional operators needed for full-time service.  Full seven-day service is expected to begin in early 2016.

The E-line has operated in special demonstration service on numerous weekends over the past decade, most intensively during the America’s Cup races in 2013. Because there is no loop track at the south end to turn single-end streetcars around, the E will be restricted to double-end vintage streetcars only.  Muni has seven double-end PCC streamliners (Nos. 1006-1011 and 1015) as well as several older vintage cars that are expected to see service, including 1912 Muni Car No. 1, 1914 Muni Car No. 130, 1928 Melbourne tram No. 496, and 1923 New Orleans “Desire” streetcar No. 952.  (The popular Blackpool boat trams function as single-end streetcars after modifications to make them ADA-compliant, and so will not be seen on the E-line, though we are hopeful of having them operate some trips on the F-line this summer.)

Market Street Railway has pledged to assist SFMTA with signage and docents at key stops to acquaint riders with the new weekend E-line service. We welcome volunteers, so if you’re interested in helping us get the word out about this exciting new service, just email us at volunteer@streetcar.org to let us know and give us your contact information.

Market Street Railway’s non-stop advocacy played a big role in making the E-line a reality. We depend on memberships and donations to carry out our mission of Preserving Historic Transit in San Francisco.  Please consider supporting us.  Thanks.

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GM Conspiracy to Kill Streetcars? Not By Itself

In this 1940 shot from the SFMTA Archives, you can see automobiles jousting with streetcars for space on Market Street. This car-car clash was a big reason streetcars almost died out in the U.S.

In this 1940 shot from the SFMTA Archives, you can see automobiles jousting with streetcars for space on Market Street. This car-car clash was a big reason streetcars almost died out in the U.S.

One of the central beliefs in the heart of many U.S. railfans is that the golden age of streetcars was cruelly crushed by a 1940’s conspiracy led by General Motors and petroleum and tire companies in an illegal scheme to sell buses. The agent was a company called National City Lines.

There’s no question that National City Lines bought up dozens of privately owned transit operations around the U.S., including the Key System here in the Bay Area, and largely succeeded in converting streetcars to buses. But an excellent article in Vox by Joseph Stromberg argues persuasively that the conspirators were vultures picking at the carcass of a mode of transit that was already dead or dying in most American cities (San Francisco being, as in many things, something of an exception).

(Note to those already blowing steam out of their ears and raring to rant: no comments will be accepted on this post unless you can demonstrate in your remarks that you actually read the linked article.)

We hear the mantra of evil GM et al repeated all the time. It’s really a religion among some. But as Stromberg points out,

“The real reasons for the streetcar’s demise are much less nefarious than a GM-driven conspiracy — they include gridlock and city rules that kept fares artificially low — but they’re fascinating in their own right, and if you’re a transit fan, they’re even more frustrating.”

Every early “public” transit system was actually privately owned, and operated to make a profit. San Francisco’s experience was typical. Many pioneering rail transit lines (initially pulled by horses, then cables, then powered by overhead wires) were started by entrepreneurs. Soon, though, they were consolidated by bigger players — in San Francisco’s case, initially by the owners of the mighty Southern Pacific Railroad.

These rail transit lines operated under franchises from the cities that hosted them. In getting the rights to put tracks into public streets and a monopoly on operating routes, they agreed to maintain the street areas around the tracks and have fares regulated. In practicality, city after city forced private operators to keep the fare at five cents for decades, regardless of inflation.

Stromberg’s analysis doesn’t mention it, but the unchanging nickel fare forced private operators to keep cutting maintenance, which meant the streetcars, track, and overhead got increasingly decrepit. Many streetcar companies went bankrupt well before National City Lines came on the scene. Others got a boost in revenue during World War II when rationing forced automobile drivers back to transit, but this only prolonged those streetcars’ life, rather than curing the underlying ills.

Oh, those automobiles. What most conspiracy theorists choose to ignore is that the rise of the middle class and the power of mass production made automobiles affordable to more families every year. Many began to choose their cars instead of streetcars for many trips, eroding transit company revenues and increasing congestion on the streets the streetcars used. Later, many moved to new suburbs beyond the streetcar’s reach and drove their cars to work, again dueling with streetcars for street space. (We document this in our current exhibit, “Cars vs. Cars”, at our San Francisco Railway Museum.

Stromberg also gives too little attention to the real issue of labor costs. Most cities had increasingly powerful transit unions, which resisted reducing streetcar crews from two operators to one. This limited the spread of the comfortable, modern PCC streetcar, which industry leaders designed in the 1930s with the intent that it would be a single operator car. Transit companies that couldn’t win government approval to reduce crew size had no incentive to buy PCCs. Indeed, our namesake, Muni’s private competitor Market Street Railway Company won the right to run single-operator streetcars in the 1930s and drew up plans for PCC-line streamliners, but had the courts reverse that right and abandoned their streamliner dreams. (Muni PCC No. 1011 is painted in tribute to what might have been, if…)

Muni bought five PCC-like streetcars in 1939, but it was all they could afford, and they had to use two-operator crews to run them.  SFMTA Archives.

Muni bought five PCC-like streetcars in 1939, but it was all they could afford, and they had to use two-operator crews to run them. SFMTA Archives.

Even America’s first urban transit system that was government-owned — Muni — felt the mix of economic pressures Stromberg describes. After acquiring the assets of the old Market Street Railway in 1944, Muni proceeded to do just what National City Lines did: convert most of its streetcar lines to buses, as quickly as they could. Equipment and track was worn out, increased automobile traffic was slowing streetcar service, and voters wouldn’t approve single-operator streetcars.

This isn’t news. We wrote about this at length in our member newsletter, Inside Track, in 2002 and later, posted the piece here, so no need to plow all that ground again. But because the over-simplified conspiracy trope keeps popping up, we think it’s important to remind people that it took more than a few corporations to almost kill the streetcar.

Speaking of reminders, we depend on YOU to help us keep today’s historic streetcar and cable car operations alive and vibrant through our advocacy and support programs. Please consider joining or contributing to Market Street Railway.  Thanks.

 

 

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Market Street Past and Future February 19

On Thursday, February 19 at 6 p.m., the venerable Mechanics’ Institute will present a double-barreled program on the past and future of Market Street, featuring the transportation policy director of SPUR, Ratna Amin, and Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher. All the details and signups are here. Market Street Railway members, SPUR members, and Mechanic’s Institute members are free. Public tickets are $15.  Note that we will check those who reserve seats as Market Street Railway members, but you can… — Read More

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E-Line Finally Budgeted…For 2016!

It’s going to take even longer before you see this sight every day. E-line service won’t be full-time until 2016. As the old saying goes, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is the SFMTA Board of Directors has approved funding to start regular E-line service. The bad news is that full-time E-line service isn’t funded until the spring of 2016, with weekend service (11 a.m.-7 p.m.) okayed to start in the summer of 2015. The schedule was… — Read More

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Opposition to F-Line Fare Increase Keeps Growing

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle More and more city leaders, groups, and individuals are sounding off about Muni staff’s idea of tripling the F-line fare to match the cable cars. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisor Scott Weiner, whose combined districts cover most of the F-line route, have written a “two thumbs down” letter about the proposal, focusing on how it is discriminatory against residents along the line who depend on it. San Francisco Travel (formerly known… — Read More

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The Castro Weighs in on Six Buck F-line Proposal

Castro District residents are weighing in on the SFMTA staff proposal to raise the F-line fare to six dollars, a 300% increase in one fell swoop (not to be confused with Fell Street). Here are a selection of reader comments from that site, castrobiscuit.com: Gerald Koskovich: “What’s with pandering to drivers while sticking it to Muni riders? The F-Line isn’t simply some theme-park ride; it’s a crucial part of effective transportation on Market Street. The proposal is an utter contradiction… — Read More

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Our E-line Vision Gaining Attention

In the wake of several successful weekends of vintage streetcar service the length of The Embarcadero on the E-line, the Curbed website posted a story on our vision for an extended E-line service today. That, in turn, spawned a post on SFist. Curbed drew on the document we’ve been distributing around town, which you can download here. Recently restored E-line PCC streetcar No. 1008 switches off the F-line tracks onto the connector track that will take it the rest of… — Read More

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Skipping Stops, Then and Now

Even in the 1930s, transit stop spacing was an issue in San Francisco. Click to enlarge. This pair of notices from our namesake (Muni’s privately owned competitor from 1921 to 1944) recently came to our attention. They would have been posted inside Market Street Railway streetcars, probably in the 1930s, as part of a campaign to win rider acceptance of wider spacing of streetcar stops. No question that the main reason the company president, Samuel Kahn, initiated the change was… — Read More

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Mid-Market Comeback

PCC No. 1060 enlivens the scene at Seventh and Market Streets. (c) Melissa Wuschnig. In his Chronicle column today, former Mayor Willie Brown said of the mid-Market area, “After decades of nothing but talk, that area is really taking off.” Decades is right. I grew up on Market Street. My family had delicatessens between Fifth and Sixth and between Fourth and Third in the 1950s (and one at Fifth and Jessie as well). As a kid, I watched the stretch… — Read More

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Another Vision for the E-line

An excellent article by Aaron Bialick in Streetsblog San Francisco discusses the possible demise of the northern end of Interstate 280 as a means to help facilitate — and pay for — undergrounding of High Speed Rail and Caltrain to reach Downtown. A version of this plan has been mooted by the Mayor’s Office. The article includes a link to a fascinating and very thoughtful study by Ben Caldwell, studying for his Master’s at UC Berkeley’s School of Urban Design.… — Read More

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A Trip to the Boneyard!

1954 Hamburg, Germany tram No. 3557 (right) and two ex-Muni PCC streetcars are among the historic vehicles awaiting restoration at Muni’s "boneyard," as the streetcar storage facility is informally known. Todd Lappin photo. Recently, a group of Market Street Railway board members joined a tour of Muni’s storage facility for streetcars awaiting restoration. This facility, near Islais Creek, exists in part because of our active advocacy, begun three decades ago, to preserve retired streetcars to meet possible future service needs.… — Read More

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Chron plays Catch Up on Market Street

John King, the Chronicle’s urban design writer, has a good piece today about some aspects of the proposed Market Street redesign. They’re about six weeks behind us though, when it comes to discussing the number of streetcar stops that should be retained as part of the revamp of our main street. A key goal of the Better Market Street project is to make the street better for transit and bikes.Autos? Eh, not so much. John called us to get our… — Read More

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All-Door Boarding on All Muni Vehicles

Muni has just implemented all-door boarding, the first system in the country to do so. That includes F-line streetcars. People with cash must board at the front door, but those with Clipper cards, Muni Passports, or valid transfers (any proof of payment) can board (legally) at the back doors. Muni has even created a video outlining the basics of the new system, with enough old photos of buses and streetcars to make it worth looking at just for that. As… — Read More

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