E is NOT for Excellent This Weekend

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After three weeks without the E-Embarcadero streetcars, they came back this weekend. Sort of.

The E-line, which currently runs weekends only from 10 a.m.-7 p.m., was scrubbed during the Super Bowl period. Its tracks weren’t blocked (unlike the Market Street portion of the F-line), but Muni operations felt that the extra service they planned on the N and T lines would conflict with the E-line, so they dinged it.

Yesterday, the E’s first day back, service was crippled because two of the five scheduled operators called in sick. Muni has an ample “extra board” of operators in all divisions to cover this common occurrence, but every one of the extra board operators was sent out to drive an F-line bus instead.  (The F-line was “bustituted” this weekend.)

This left three E-line streetcars to cover the entire route on Saturday, February 13. And that wasn’t just a normal day — it was the Giants’ FanFest at AT&T Park, an annual event that draws tens of thousands of visitors. The E-line is supposed to run every 15 minutes.  With only three cars, gaps of 45 minutes were common. Sometimes even longer. Around Noon, all three E-line cars were on the south 20 percent of the line (below Brannan Street), leaving no service between there and Fisherman’s Wharf. (Update: Sunday was better. All five E-line runs made it to the street.)

We don’t know why Muni chose to cut E-line service Saturday when they should know that F-line demand goes down when buses substitute for streetcars. The F-line would have been fine if they ran 15 buses yesterday instead of 17.  That would have been a 12% reduction in F-line capacity, as opposed to the 40% reduction in E-line capacity from the switch.

The de facto E-line service cut came one day after Market Street Railway leaders met with top SFMTA operations and planning staff to discuss seven-day service on the E-line, now slated to begin in late April. While those events aren’t directly connected, it does point up the need for a clear commitment on SFMTA Operations’ part to ensuring the scheduled service actually reaches the street.  The E-line cannot succeed when the streetcars don’t show up…which unfortunately has been a regular occurrence on the E.

We will continue to work closely with SFMTA to improve reliability of E-line service.

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Comments: 3

  1. I went to Fanfest then spent the rest of the day exploring the city. Why aren’t Wharf merchants up in arms? Plus Lot A was only $10, a big reason to stay parked and travel via streetcar.

  2. Looks awfully like the idiots at SFMTA aren’t really interested in streetcar operations. Kinda like the old days years ago when National City Lines was determined to eradicate streetcars from the streets of America for good. Busifcation took out a goodly number of otherwise excellent streetcar operations in a variety of cities.

    Take Los Angeles for example, just the LARY: when the last five remaining streetcar lines (all PCC’s) and the two electric trolley (ETB) lines were abandoned to buses, the LARY system was actually running at a PROFIT. Beleive it or not, it was documented to be true. Angelano’s LOVED their streetcars. Loved them so much that the final days of operations, some streetcars were decked out in black bunting and/or weeping tears painted on their fronts and “Goodbye Forever” painted on the sides of the car bodies. Thousands turned out the final owl service of the lines as each of the streetcars went into the regular streetcar staging facilities.

    The P-Pico/East First line ran on two minute headways. That’s right TWO. It was quite usual, as I personally witnessed, to see three P-Pico cars within a mere two to three blocks and all were loading riders. If a car was full, the motorman would hit the bell and continue because a block behind was another P streetcar, then a third. Angelenos understood how this worked. The P line cars were the last version of the PCC built, all-electric, nearly silent running, very comfortable with amazing accelleration and smooth stopping.

    Officials in San Francisco need to WISE-UP, and realize what they have in the MSR operation. The MSR streetcar operation is at least equal to the delightul cable car operations. Seems like SFMTA needs to acquire some fresh “new blood” with an appreciation for just what they have in the MSR and get with the program. Bustitution! What a crock!

    Hell. Super Bowl 50 wasn’t even close to SF. Oh right! At first SD-50 wanted the wires taken down on lower Market. Somehow, someone realized the lunacy to that brain-dead idea. Thanks to the current idiot mayor and city council, who were in awe of the super bowl biggies who simply didn’t feel that a Super Bowl-50 extravaganza wouldn’t be appropriate down South, in little Santa Clara, for God’s sake, lower Market got the big “hit.”
    How disappointing and tragic, when one looks at what SF once was vs, now, has become.

    • We should dispense with the romanticism and deal with facts.

      The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority took over from the private-sector Los Angeles Transit Lines in 1958. The LAMTA system operated at a profit – because state law required this. All expenses – capital and operating – had to be paid from farebox revenues. This was one of the two major factors that brought about the end of electric surface transit in L.A.

      (The Southern California Rapid Transit District, which succeeded MTA in 1964, had the power to levy taxes for transit construction … with voter approval … but not for operation. Not until 1969 did the state legislature provide funding for transit operation in L.A. – and then, only under threat of a total shutdown of transit operations.)

      The major factor – which, sorry to say, is ignored by far too many people – is the rapid loss of ridership post-WWII. This is often difficult to document for U.S. transit – but not for L.A. In 1950, the LATL streetcar system operated 113.2 route-miles and carried 149.6 million passengers (including transfers). Just four years later, the system was slightly smaller – 109.4 route-miles – but traffic had fallen to 100.2 million passengers. The system suffered a 33 percent loss of traffic in just four years. The trolleybus system suffered similar erosion of traffic: it carried 31.3 million passengers in 1950, and 18.1 million in 1955. The interurban system also lost passengers, and in droves. The Long Beach line, 20 miles long, carried 4.6 million passengers in 1948. By 1960, the last full year of operation, traffic had fallen to 1.5 million. The 1948 statistic would be considerably larger – in the range of 10-15 million – if traffic carried by other rail services using the same line were included. Also, today’s LRT Blue Line, on the same alignment, carried 24.3 million passengers in 2016.

      LAMTA decided to eliminate streetcars and trolleybuses in 1962. Squeezed between rising costs and falling revenue, the board believed – “hoped” might be a better choice of words – that it could secure lower operating costs and stave off a fare increase by replacing streetcars and trolleybuses with diesel buses. This might sound like a contradiction in terms, but it’s difficult to imagine what the alternative might have been.

      Rail and trolleybus systems provide “economies of scale” – but, if traffic falls below certain threshold levels, these turn into “dis-economies of scale.” By 1962, traffic on most of the LAMTA streetcar and trolleybus systems had fallen below the levels
      necessary to justify continued operation. Not only that, but ridership continued to decline, and no one knew when this
      trend would “bottom out.”

      The second factor was the need for capital rehabilitation and renewal. It is true that the L.A. streetcar infrastructure (track, overhead, power supply) and cars were in good condition despite their age. This, however, is beside the point. Large expenditures for renewal and replacement, if not “urgent,” would have needed to start within a few years. MTA had no way to finance this. It might have kept the system going for several more years had it
      stopped all but the most essential
      maintenance and depreciated the life out of the system. About all this
      would have done was increase the rate of ridership decline.

      There might be a place … somewhere … where the public, motorists and transit riders alike, makes clear its belief that electric transit is a good idea. A place where people believe that higher service quality is worth higher operating costs – which they’re willing to pay. That wasn’t L.A. in 1962 (although it is, arguably, L.A. today). Hate to say this, but I’ve gotten the strong impression over the past 50 years that it wasn’t San Francisco “back then” – or today.

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