Reminder of Our Roots, from Down the Coast

As our members and friends know, our organization is named for Muni’s old private competitor, Market Street Railway Company. That company actually went through several manifestations, starting back in the 19th century, when it was an arm of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s all-powerful “octopus,” famously novelized by Frank Norris.

In the 1920s, following a reorganization of United Railroads, the name appeared again, this time managed by a firm named Byllesby, which owned or managed numerous utility properties of many types around the country, not just streetcar lines.
Member Bob Davis recently sent us a reminder of Byllesby’s one-time reach with this photo of the restored downtown power station of San Diego Gas & Electric, with a medallion highlighting the Byllesby slogan, “Pioneers in Public Service.” What you don’t see, because the incised letters around the edge are painted the same color as the medallion itself, is the name “Byllesby” across the top and the words “Engineering-Finance-Management” around the edge.

On the similarly shaped original Market Street Railway logo (on which our non-profit’s logo is closely modeled), “Byllesby” appears in the same location along the top, and “Pioneers in Public Service” around the edge. When transit stopped being profitable in America (between the 1930s and late 1940s in most places), management companies like Byllesby gave up this part of their portfolio as public agencies took over. (Remember, Muni was the first big-city public transit agency when it started up in 1912; there were few like it around the country until after World War II.)
Now, though, we’re starting to see private-sector management of transit systems reappear in the U.S. and elsewhere, particularly with firms like Veolia, a French firm that now has contracts to run such systems as New Orleans’ RTA.
Thanks to Bob for the photo. By the way, in a little coincidence, San Diego’s weekend “Silver Line” loop, using an ex-Muni 1100-class PCC restored as a San Diego streetcar, runs right by this site today.