Smoke Stops Cable Cars

UPDATE: The cable cars will remain out of service at least through Sunday, November 18.

The deteriorating air quality around San Francisco Bay due to the smoke from the Camp Fire to the north has claimed another victim: the city’s cable cars.

Muni pulled all the cable cars into the barn this afternoon (November 15) and replaced them with buses until air quality improves. Forecasters say that could be another week. In a sign of how serious Bay Area residents have been affected, store after store has sold out of air purifiers and N95 face masks, recommended for those who must venture outdoors. The Cable Car Museum at Washington and Mason Street closed on Thursday for the same reason.

On one level, it may seem counter-intuitive to some to replace zero emission vehicles (the cable cars are powered by central electric motors using the city’s own hydroelectricity) with diesel buses, especially when an air inversion is trapping the smoke and locally generated emissions close to the ground. But cable car crews and passengers alike are essentially outdoors, where at least the buses can turn on their air conditioning and get some air filtration that way.

We join everyone in the Bay Area in our condolences to all those who have lost their homes — and lives — in this worst wildfire in California history, and in our concerns for all those in other parts of the state, such as Sacramento, where the air quality right now is even worse than it is here.

(The photo above comes from MSR Member Traci Cox, capturing the smoky background behind California Cable Car 56 looking west up Nob Hill from Drumm Street yesterday. It’s worse today.