Tracking the Transit Taliban
Bill Coolidge’s Bay Journal…
Angel Island Victorian
House Tours
MTC’s Bay Crossings Study: More Than Just Talk
By Teri Shore Bay Environment
Going Wiggy over Wig-Wags
The F Word Line – A MUNIficent Mess
Bay Crossings Reader of the Month
Ferry Building Update
Dirty Bombs Giving you the Heebie-Jeebies?
WTA Report…
Working Waterfront:
Bill Xavier
Twenty-Fourth Annual World Footbag Championships
Water Transit Authority  WTA

The F Word Line – A MUNIficent Mess
So what does MUNI do about this? The Australians would say, “two fifths of bugger all.”

By Guy Span

Ferry commuters who use MUNI’s F-Line up the Embarcadero receive a daily dose of abuse. Punishingly brutal crowding is the standard fare, as hundreds of commuters try to cram into the antique streetcars that clank their way up and back. MUNI has long been aware of the problem, but has yet to take any action that alleviates the severe overcrowding and instead, trumpets it as a “success.”

This curmudgeon says MUNI is aware of the problem because he has written reasonably civil letters (given the continuing provocations) to General Manager Michael T. Burns, who responds with wonderfully written apologies that promise nothing. “The new F-Line is popular beyond expectations…” wrote Mr. Burns, chief apologist for the MUNIserable transit service in August of 2000. Two years later and with the addition of some Embarcadero shuttle cars and the elimination of the idiotic turn-back program (where cars turned back on Market Street and ignored the Embarcadero), we find the service is still miserable. In the late afternoon, the streetcars have long since been filled to full crush capacity even before they get to Bay Street and blow off all the rest of the patrons en route to the Ferry Building. The regulars call it going “Express.”

One of the reasons the line is so crowded is that in addition to all those commuters who used to suffer the same indignities when MUNI erratically operated the service with the 32 bus line, we now have tourists out to enjoy the Disneyland feel of historic trolleys. But worse than that, these nifty little suckers break down a lot, so the full quota of cars can’t go out. So what does MUNI do about this? The Australians would say, “two fifths of bugger all.” And the result is there are fewer cars in service, so you have to get even more people on them, achieving full crush capacity sooner, so they go “express” even earlier, which irritates the living daylights out of all those waiting further down the line.

So why do these cars break down? Streetcars, like most vehicles, have a standard capacity design load, where they operate comfortably and reliably. However, no one designs a system to operate continuously at the upper end – it’s just not practical to overbuild by that much of a margin.

 Therefore, due to the heavy patronage and erratic service, our streetcars have to cram in lots of standees (and people are heavy), but this puts the traction motors, suspension and braking systems operating closer to their upper end design limits. When you operate at the limit every stinking workday (as these cars do), the cars will fail sooner. Remember, most of these streetcars were built in the 1950s or earlier and are being pushed really hard (even though recently rebuilt).

Some types can be loaded heavier than others. The orange Milan (Italy) cars from the 1920s have an interior that only BART would want to emulate with its new “shorter trains save money” policy. You see this interior design has eliminated lots of seats by placing a bench along both sides of the car body, leaving a huge space for standees and making it the ideal type of car for the F-Line. Given the price ($10,000 a copy) we can probably put up with these clunky and incredibly loud cars because we can cram so many extra passengers in, cheek to jowl. It’s a real “get to know your neighbor” kind of experience that we could only wish on MUNI managers.

These bright orange cars were built to an American design and are known as “Peter Witt” cars, named after a Cleveland city transit official that designed this streetcar to be operated with just one man, saving the expense of having a conductor to collect fares. MUNI, being denser than a collapsed star, has placed the fare machine where it is difficult for the motorman to supervise, so a conductor usually assists with the operation. And of course the conductor is just taking up standing room, as once the car gets reasonably full, no one can make their way to the fare box even if they were inclined to pay for the experience.

And what were they thinking when they designed ugly, modern transit shelters to complement the historic light poles, old-style paving and antique streetcars? And mounted on these hideous shelters is a “schedule” that advises in rush hour we can expect a streetcar once every seven minutes (maybe in your dreams). And what’s worse is that the streetcar operators each have a schedule, defining the time that they are expected to be at each ugly station. However, the public is not to be trusted with that sort of thing (even though the Australians have had scheduled trams in Melbourne for years). It appears that MUNI is concerned that publishing a schedule might create expectations. Trust me on this one, no one who rides the F-Line has any expectations, other than the sure knowledge that one should leave enough time to walk to one’s destination (the regulars refer to this as “the MUNI exercise program”).

Is there a solution? Of course there is. We could hire any number of campaign-contributing, sole-sourced (without competitive bidding) transit consultants to help out, like they did during the BIG meltdown. Consultants essentially borrow your watch and tell you what time it is (for lots of pay, of course). So the consultants would eventually get around to asking the streetcar operators for their opinions.

An operator would say, “Gee boss, it’s kind of rough in the evening, even when we are not short of cars. How about grabbing some of the empty buses deadheading up and down the Embarcadero and run them in service on the right-of-way? They won’t lose much time because they’ll bypass the traffic and that’ll take the pressure off, where we might stick to the schedule.” And guess what? With the crush loadings reduced, the streetcars might last longer and the tourists might have a better impression of our fair city.

Short of that, the abused F-Line riders can only hope that the Chief Apologist for MUNI will wander down about 5:15 p.m. and take a ride with us and really get to know how much we enjoy the historic streetcar service and what a terrific success it all is. Watch your wallet though; those crowds make pickpocket work a lot easier.

Anatomy of
an F-Line Trip

June 6, 2002 Bay St. to the Ferry Building

5:40 pm 12 patrons waiting at Bay St.
5:45 pm 18 patrons waiting
5:47 pm Four patrons give up and walk.
5:49 pm Two more give up and walk.
5:53 pm PCC car arrives, boards all (now totally full)
5:56 pm Goes “Express” leaving Bay St.
5:58 pm Patron desires to exit at Pier 23
Five waiting, room for only one to board
5:59 pm Other patron realizes wallet is stolen, delay
while that group exits in search of previous patron with wallet
6:00 pm Now room for three more to board; discussion about wallet
6:04 pm Depart Pier 23, running “Express”
6:09 pm Arrive Ferry Building