Brooklyn is Back!

The streetcars just keep on coming (and in one case, going back). PCC 1053, painted to honor Brooklyn NY, arrived back in San Francisco April 1 (no foolin’) after being thoroughly rebuilt at Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania, part of that company’s contract with Muni to renovate the 16 PCCs in Muni’s original F-line fleet.

It was streetcars (or as they were often called in New York, trolleys) that famously inspired the nickname of Brooklyn’s professional baseball team, which was originally dubbed the “Trolley Dodgers” (later shortened). That baseball team later moved to some other town, somewhere.

Anyway, the streetcars in the current $30 million-plus Brookville contract include 13 single-end streetcars (numbered from 1050 to 1063) that had been acquired from Philadelphia’s SEPTA transit agency second-hand, plus three double-enders (1007, 1010, and 1015) that were bought new by Muni in 1948 and retired from their first service life in 1982. This group of PCCs was initially renovated by Morrison-Knudsen in upstate New York in time to open the F-line in 1995.

The 1053 arrived with its wonderful seal of the City of New York on the sides, but also with duplicate numbers on both ends of the car, high and low. It turns out that at some point in the past 20 years, Muni shops doing work on the 1053 added the extra sets of numbers and Brookville simply replicated that.  Not a big deal; it will be corrected before the car goes into service.

Like previous cars in this contract, the 1053 will now undergo testing for 1,000 miles before being accepted by Muni. This contract includes a one-year warranty on the streetcars.

That warranty is being put to use on Car 1060, which went back into service last July but was found to have significant roof leaks when this winter’s storms hit. Brookville will carry out the warranty work at their factory in Pennsylvania. Here’s the 1060 being loaded for the return trip, courtesy Allen Chan on our Facebook group.

The 1060 will join two single-end PCC painted in tribute to transit systems of the city-that-shall-not-be-named that the Dodgers moved to 60 years ago (1052 – LA Railway, and 1061 – Pacific Electric), which are the next to return, in that order, to San Francisco), plus double-end 1015, which is being used as the prototype for restoring the two double-enders still at Muni (1007 and 1010), as well as the two ex-Red Arrow cars (18 and 21, to be renumbered 1012 and 1013) that Muni acquired from the Shore Line Trolley Museum in Connecticut last year. Negotiations to add the Red Arrow cars to the contract have not yet been concluded, and work on them cannot begin until that’s done.

Two more single-end PCCs, 1057, wearing the Cincinnati tribute livery, and 1058, honoring Chicago Transit Authority, are still at Muni waiting for their turn at Brookville.

As always, we’ll keep you up to date on the comings and goings.

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Boat from “Beach to Beach” May 6

UPDATE, April 6 — This event SOLD OUT in record time. We’ll announce future excursions through a blog post here or in our monthly email newsletter. To subscribe to either or both, click here.
We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary year of the Twin Peaks Tunnel with a special excursion along the streetcar lines it created. Though we’d love to go through the venerable tunnel itself, the overhead wires were converted years ago to allow only modern light rail vehicles. But we still found a way to make the trip unique: we’ll use Muni’s “convertible” — open-top 1934 Blackpool, England Car 228, known to all as the “boat tram”.

The boat will sail from Cameron Beach Yard at Geneva & San Jose Avenues, across from the Balboa Park BART station (and the J, K, and M line terminals) at 1:30 p.m. sharp on Sunday, May 6, for a two-hour jaunt along the M-Ocean View (opened in 1925), the L-Taraval (opened in 1919) to the Zoo terminal near Ocean Beach. There’ll be a photo opportunity at the Zoo. Then back on the L to West Portal, and along the first tunnel line, the K-Ingleside (opened in 1918) back to Cameron Beach.

So you can say you’re going from Beach to Beach and back to Beach when you take this special ride.

See more details here. Don’t miss this very special excursion.

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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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“Trackless Trolleys”?

The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub, who does some productive digging around in the paper’s archives, has come up with a very good story on the conversion of many San Francisco streetcar lines to trolley coaches in the late 1940s. Above, one of several great photos from the story. Taken on the first day of electric bus service on Market Street, July 5, 1949, it shows a Twin Coach on the 5-McAllister followed by a mix of Marmon-Herringtons and Twins, outbound at Grant Avenue. Streetcars are still very much on the scene, including then-new double-end PCC 1009, still operating on the E-line today!

The conversion turned two dozen streetcar lines into bus routes. The majority of those conversions were to trolley coaches. Interestingly, Chronicle articles of the day referred to the new electric buses as “trackless trolleys”, a term mostly used in the East. Use of that term didn’t last long here; riders were soon referring to them as “trolley buses” while Muni officially called them “trolley coaches”.

A couple of clarifications on the article: Hartlaub seems to imply that the plans of PUC General Manager James Turner called for complete elimination of tracks on Market Street, when in fact only the outer tracks were taken up. He also noted that the only environmental benefit Muni seemed to tout for the new trolley buses was that the interiors wouldn’t smell bad. Not surprising that Muni would focus on this, though, since riders of converted streetcar lines had for a year been riding on interim gasoline motor coaches from White Motor Company, which had terrible ventilation that filled their interiors with gasoline fumes.

Overall, it’s a very good read. Worth your time.

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“Newest” PCC Streetcar Collides with Truck

Around 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day, the newest PCC streetcar to reenter regular service following a complete rebuilding collided with a large box truck while returning to the carbarn after completing its day’s work on the F-line. The impact knocked the streetcar, No. 1063 (painted to honor Baltimore Transit), off the track and turned the truck on its side. No injuries had been reported by the time this post was made. The streetcar had no passengers aboard at the… — Read More

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Santa Claus Was Coming to Town

One of the joys of the San Francisco holiday season 50 or 60 years ago was the arrival of Santa Claus. Not down the chimney on Christmas Eve, but weeks earlier, down Powell Street on a cable car. Along with thousands of San Franciscans of a certain age, I (Rick Laubscher, Market Street Railway president) remember it well. For many years after World War II, the Emporium chartered a cable car each year, decorated it, and carried Santa Claus downtown… — Read More

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Welcome Back, Cable Car 22!

The double-deuce hits the street Wednesday, November 29 after being out of service eight years! UPDATE 11/29: Turns out the November 29 runs were for advanced testing…stand by for an announcement on passenger service. Its failing frame and rotting wood were certainly entitled to take a few years off, for Car 22 (once 522) is one of the relatively few surviving original Ferries & Cliff House Railways Cars from 1887. It started on the vanished Sacramento-Clay line, but moved over to… — Read More

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Our Spies are Everywhere!

  Even Truckee, where John Griffin snapped these two shots of the latest PCC to be rehabilitated by Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania. The photos were forwarded to us by Market Street Railway member James Giraudo. Car 1055 should be at Muni Metro Center by the time you read this. It is the sixth of 16 PCC cars covered by the current rehabilitation contract with Brookville. The contract covers the original F-line streetcar fleet from 1995, including 13 single end streetcars… — Read More

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84% Support Historic Streetcars

In the increasingly frothy world of online media, we’ve noticed a definite increase in stories designed to create a controversy where there really isn’t one. With today’s frantic competition for eyeballs, competitors will often build on each other’s story without doing any actual, you know, reporting. (Not that this is just an online media thing; who of a certain age can forget the Chronicle’s “crusade” against bad coffee half a century ago, under the unforgettable headline, “A Great City’s People… — Read More

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More Muni Mismanagement of the E-line

PLEASE SEE JULY 11 UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST. Sunday, July 9, has been a gorgeous day in San Francisco, but not a good day (again) for the E-Embarcadero line, which again has been mismanaged, in this case by assigning a streetcar that should have been on the E-line to the F-line instead. In the photo above, you see one of the seven double-end PCCs, the 1007, working the F-line to Castro, not the E. The double-end PCCs… — Read More

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Boston’s Back in Business

Muni’s paint shop folks put the finishing touch on newly-returned PCC 1059, applying the “Boston Elevated Railway” decal prepared by our ace graphic designer, David Dugan. The 1059 should be entering “burn-in” activities in the next few days. This is the acceptance period for each of the 16 cars in the current rehabilitation contract with Brookville Equipment Company following their complete renovation. This involves running the car without passengers for 1,000 miles to test all systems and ensure the car… — Read More

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Private Cruise on the Boat Tram, Just for You, June 4

UPDATE: This event is SOLD OUT. If you’d like to be the first to know when our next trolley tour will happen, ask to be added to our excursion notification list by emailing us at info@streetcar.org. Sunday, June 4, one of the famous 1934 Blackpool “boat trams” will cruise again on the tracks of the F-line, with a guided tour of everything historic along the route from our friends at City Guides and our own Paul Lucas. It’s a private charter, and… — Read More

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“Boston” is Back!

  PCC 1059, honoring Boston Elevated Railway, is back in San Francisco, photographed by MSR Member Traci Cox at Muni Metro East in the wee hours of Monday, April 24. Like many of the 17 first-generation F-line streetcars (numbered from 1050-1063, plus 1007, 1010, and 1015), the colors on the tribute livery adorning 1059 were a little off. At that time, Muni only allowed a relative handful of colors in the palette for the PCC tribute paint schemes, but now, there… — Read More

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Welcome Back, Harvey Milk’s Streetcar!

The streetcar honoring Harvey Milk, civil rights icon and transit advocate, was rededicated in a ceremony at the Castro Street F-line terminal on Wednesday, March 15. Car 1051, looking factory fresh, was on display at the spare track next to Jane Warner Plaza while a parade of speakers, led by district Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, paid tribute to Harvey Milk — and to Muni’s parent, SFMTA, and Market Street Railway for their respective roles in keeping the F-line up to date.… — Read More

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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… — Read More

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