Never Let the Facts…

…get in the way of a good story. That’s what cynical old journalists told me way back when I was a cub reporter. Still true, as I’ve learned again in talking with some media folks — and even more, reading blog comments — about the Streetcar No. 1 restoration contract.
Here are some facts I reported to media people. Only a couple made it into any of their accounts.

1_rust_rot_side_0804.jpg

Rust and rot damage on streetcar no. 1

  • Amortized over the anticipated lifetime of this renovation (50 years), the project is more cost-effective than any other major Muni vehicle rehabilitation
  • Muni is currently planning to spend about the same amount as the No. 1 contract to renovate EACH of the 150 Breda light rail vehicles on their property: a $275 million tab (unfunded to date). That renovation won’t be amortized over 50 years, but just 20, after which the Bredas are due for scrapping. And the Bredas need this work after just 10 years of service vs. No. 1’s 97 years.
  • Over the life of the renovation, the cost is less than replacing streetcar No. 1 in the fleet with a plain old diesel bus. Those wear out and are scrapped every 12 years, so you’d need four buses over the life of the renovation. Those four would cost about $2 million in current dollars. Want lower-polluting hybrid buses?  Much more.  Want to match the zero-pollution of pure electric streetcar No. 1 with a trolley bus, which also lasts longer than diesels? It’d still cost more.

What’s more dispiriting than ignored facts, though, is the emergence of people who seem to think San Francisco should be more like, I don’t know, say, Houston. Homogenize everything. Wreck history. Lowest common denominator.
But then I remembered that the same kind of outcry came from the do-nothing crowd after the 1989 earthquake, when it was obvious that City Hall was no longer safe. Whatever else you may think of him, Mayor Brown stood up for doing it right, against a lot of criticism. Funny how no one is critical now that they’ve seen the results. I think we’ll see the same thing with streetcar No. 1.

Comments: 11

  1. That comment on diesel buses reminded me of back in 1981, when Muni’s overworked and under-maintained motorbus fleet had so many coaches on the “Disabled List” that Muni wound up renting some relics of the 1950’s from SCRTD, and some of these were hand-me-downs from Atlanta and Kansas City. It was rather weird to see coaches I may have ridden to work here in So. Cal. rattling through the streets of San Francisco. I suspect that the diesel mechanics are grateful that some of the “lumpiest” lines have been converted to trolley-bus operation.
    As far as opponents of the Muni 1 restoration are concerned, their point of view is as ill-conceived as Mayor Lapham’s “scrap the cables” efforts–Car 1 should rank right below cable cars as a mobile symbol of The City.

  2. OK, Muni is going to waste $1.5 billion on the Central Subway, the SFPD is stealing $19 million from Muni this year alone and what people get upset about is the restoration of one streetcar?
    WTF?
    People need to get their priorities straight, stop hating on the one Muni line people actually like riding. I wonder if Muni would be better if the public didn’t complain every time they tried to invest in something nice.

  3. I looked back over some of the press reports about the restoration, and can’t find a single quote of any actual person claiming the work shouldn’t be done, just reporters insinuating that someone might!

  4. Maybe this is an embarrassing question, but when #1 returns from “rehab”, will it have a shelter to preserve the makeover for as long as possible? A house for the vintage cars seems to be another of those Muni projects that takes about as long as building a Pyramid (Egyptian, not Transamerican).

  5. Bob, the work has already started for the car barn at the Geneva Yard and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2010. When construction starts, the non-working streetcars will be stored at the new Muni Metro East rail yard along Third Street. There, they will be stored inside on a pair of tracks which will one day be where the wheel-truing go, but are not in use right now.

  6. That’s good news! Earlier this month I was part of an Orange Empire crew that did a massive moving project to get over a dozen weather-beaten cars into our new barn. Sounds like Muni’s barn will be done by the time #1 comes home. Much as I found the old Geneva barn a fascinating and funky place, I had visions of another SF quake burying the only electric streetcar fleet on the West Coast.

  7. Car 1 and Cable car 1 will both be ready for muni’s 100th birthday doings. Cable Car 1 will be refurbished in-house.
    Look for brand new cable car 15, this summer it will be bright yellow and beautiful!

  8. No, it is NOT true that the Muni bus yard near Pier 39 (Kirkland Division) will be converted to streetcar use. That land is under a planning process for conversion to housing; the proceeds are needed to pay for the replacement Muni bus yard near Islais Creek.

  9. It seems that they’ve been talking about closing and redeveloping Kirkland yard for at least 30 years.

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