“Super Bust 50”

For three weeks, F-line streetcar riders from the Wharf had to transfer onto buses near the Ferry Building to reach destinations along Market Street, including the Castro. Many skipped the trip altogether.

For three weeks, F-line streetcar riders from the Wharf had to transfer onto buses near the Ferry Building to reach destinations along Market Street, including the Castro. Many skipped the trip altogether.

“Super Bust 50” is the headline of the new Castro Merchants monthly President’s Letter by Daniel Bergerac. You can read his entire letter here, but here’s the gist.

As the Super Let Down after Super Bowl 50 starts to fade, let’s remember who is going to end up paying the biggest price for Santa Clara hosting this huge sporting event – – we are: local merchants, especially in The Castro.  But, we are not alone, we hear, as local merchant associations all over San Francisco report down, soft revenues during SB50.  From all over The Castro and Upper Market neighborhood, I’ve heard from fellow merchants.  The nine days of official SB50 events in the City ballooned, for us, into over three weeks of SB50-related interruptions.  Customer traffic (locals and visitors alike) and revenues were some of their slowest on record during what had been promised as a “busy time.”   Nightmare predictions of over-crowded streets and traffic jams kept Bay Area local folks out of San Francisco.  Running “Bustitues” instead of the F Line historic streetcars between The Castro and Ferry Building for over three weeks further hurt our area’s local and visitor traffic and revenues.

It’s really important to point out that SFMTA leadership was not consulted before the City made the decision to shut down those easternmost three blocks of Market Street for three weeks, crippling the F-line and Muni bus service in the area.  Once they were handed a fait accompli, Muni staff worked hard to make transit work as well as possible.  They were responsive to the concerns the Castro Merchants — and we at Market Street Railway — expressed about the prolonged replacement of historic streetcars with buses on Market Street.  They agreed with our recommendation that the transfer between the substitute Market Street buses and the streetcars (which remained in service between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building) be as easy and intuitive as possible. They put out lots of staff to help people make the transfer, next to our museum on Don Chee Way, the right-of-way linking Steuart Street to The Embarcadero). They put signage in Metro stations and on vehicles promoting the Castro as a destination for Super Bowl visitors. (We gladly did the same at our museum.)

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Shops and restaurants still suffered because only a small percentage of Super Bowl City visitors bought anything outside the event barricades, and because many regular workers and visitors stayed away after the repeated warnings of congestion. Our own San Francisco Railway Museum, right next to Super Bowl City, saw our sales of souvenirs drop 56% — more than half — over the same week in 2015, during  the week they were taking Super Bowl City down, but the F-line was still being “bustituted” on Market. Even the week Super Bowl City was open to the public, our sales ran 12% below the previous year, despite our efforts to play up football connections to transit at the museum and reintroduction of a Kezar Stadium dash sign tee-shirt aimed at fans.

The city has not finished adding up the net economic impact of the Super Bowl events in San Francisco, and it may be that additional hotel taxes and the like will more than compensate for the reduced take of sales taxes the city will get from the small businesses in the Castro and elsewhere who saw their sales fall off.

One clear lesson from this event: buses are no substitute for the F-line streetcars on a long-term basis. It has been shown over and over, in city after city: visitors do not trust, or feel comfortable on buses (with the possible exception of iconic vehicles like London’s red double-deckers). In San Francisco, the cable cars and historic streetcars, yes. Every time buses are substituted en masse for the cable cars and streetcars, ridership plummets. For so many people, the journey on these wonderful “time machines” is as important as the destination. And so, when buses replace historic rail, businesses along the lines, and especially near the terminals, suffer.

We hope the powers-that-be in San Francisco includes the community more thoroughly in planning for future events. Looking at the layout and extent of Super Bowl City, they clearly could have set it up in a way that could have kept the F-line streetcars running up Market Street to the Castro. That could have been a win-win.