Cable Car Lines in San Francisco

by Joe Thompson

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If you came to this page from an outside link, you may want to see the Picture of the Month and visit my main page.


The straight streets and steep hills of San Francisco inspired the invention of the cable car. San Francisco is the only city where the cable car still lives.


Muni herald
Muni 100 Years -- 1912-2012

28-December-2012 was the 100th birthday of the San Francisco Municipal Railway. Please visit my new page on the 100th birthday
Muni worm


Union Street, 1906
1906 Earthquake and Fire - 100 Years

18-Apr-2006 marked the 100th anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.
Union Street, 1906



Cable Car Videos

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DVD Review: The Feel of the Rope/ Reflections on Life at the San Francisco Cable Car Division

The Feel of the Rope

The Feel of the Rope tells the story of San Francisco's cable cars. That story has been told in more books and videos than anyone can count, but Nick Tomizawa's The Feel of the Rope takes a unique perspective. Like many other videos, it shows the cars climbing the hills, talks about the technology, and illustrates the history with well-chosen old photos. But this dvd is special because it concentrates on the men and women of the Cable Car Division. These dedicated people talk about what they do to keep the system working and how they interact with the public and with each other in their daily work. The video makes it clear that this is an unusually devoted family of people who give their best efforts to make the cable cars safe and available for the many people who want to ride them.

The quality of the video images and the sound is excellent. I enjoyed the use of classical music in the score, especially in an opening montage showing closeups of the various interview subjects. These were faces with a lot of character.

My whole family enjoyed it.

Order it here.

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Introducing Cubbie the Cable Car

EM Nelson has produced an animated video for preschoolers about a new character, Cubbie the Cable Car. You can view it here:
"Monkey With a Fare"

Cubbie the Cable Car

The show is set in 1890 San Francisco, and the views of Victorian houses and cable cars are very well done. The characters are cute.

You can learn a lot about animation on the CubbieTown Blog.

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Virtual Field Trip - Cable Cars in San Francisco

Meet Me at the Corner produces what they call Virtual Field Trips on video. The videos are aimed at home schooled kids, but they are suitable for everyone. They just rolled out a video about cable cars. A seventh grader interviewed me and did a really good job. You can see the video here:
Meet Me at the Corner

There are lots of other videos on interesting topics (check out the one on falconry at the US Air Force Academy), and guidelines for kids who want to make their own and submit them.

Meet Me at the Corner scene

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Lords of the Rings - The Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest

Judy Tierney has produced a video about the Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest called "Lords of the Rings" -- great title. "Lords of the Rings is a documentary about the San Francisco Cable Car Bell Ringing contest, profiling three champions who have won the title multiple times. Leonard Oats, winner of the last three contests, 5-time champion Bryon Cobb and 3-time champion Ken Lunardi describe the contest, talk about their own individual styles and offer a glimpse of what it is like to prepare for and compete in the annual event at Union Square."

You can see the video here:
http://vimeo.com/6283427

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Historic American Engineering Record, San Francisco Cable Car System

Recognizing the need to document America's national industrial and engineering heritage the National Park Service, the Library of Congress, the American Society of Civil Engineers formed the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) to document nationally and regionally significant engineering and industrial sites. This the HAER's documentation of San Francisco's cable car system. The documentation was done prior to the 1982-84 cable car system rebuilding.

To view the documents, you must right-click on the links and save them to your hard drive.

These are extremely large files--the first, with 13 HAER diagrams of system components, is about 2.2 mb, right-click and save the following link: Overview

The second, with over 100 pages of historical description notes and photos, is about 5 meg, right-click and save the following link: Historical Data

Two additional PDF documents are available for download with the photos and captions that accompany the drawings and data. To view these documents, right-click and save the following links: Photos 1/ Photos 2

A special thanks to Alan Kline for collating all of the HAER's cable car pages into two documents and making them available for all to enjoy.

(Above documents are in PDF format and require Acrobat Reader to be installed on your computer. If you don't have it, you can get it free by clicking on the Acrobat link below):

Get Adobe Acrobat

(Walter Rice)

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Carville

Carville Carville after 1906 (Source: The Barbary MUSH Photo Archive). Feb, 1998 Picture of the Month.

Carville was an impromptu community located near the Southwest corner of Golden Gate Park. in the 1890's, transit companies began selling old horse cars for reuse and some people began putting them on the sand dunes to use as Sunday resting places or permanent homes. Obsolete cable cars were available after 1906. People assembled houses and businesses from the abandoned vehicles.

At least two houses, made from two cable car and a horse-drawn streetcars, survive in the Sunset District.

Woody LaBounty's book, Carville-by-the-Sea, San Francisco's Streetcar Suburb tells the story of Carville. He gives a well-documented history of the growth of Carville from a single shack to a neighborhood with water, electric power, a school, and a firehouse. It encouraged me to revise this article.

I also appreciated the way the author included Gelett Burgess and his writings about Carville.

Order the book using the supporting website: http://www.carville-book.com/

Carville-by-the-Sea cover

Carville Carville in February, 1925, taken at 1372-48th Avenue (Source: [volume 20:group 4:22b], Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks Documenting San Francisco History and Law Enforcement, ca. 1895-1936, BANC PIC 1996.003--fALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.).

Carville Another view of Carville in February, 1925, taken at 1208-48th Avenue (Source: [volume 20:group 11:78a], Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks Documenting San Francisco History and Law Enforcement, ca. 1895-1936, BANC PIC 1996.003--fALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.).

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Telegraph Hill Railroad

Telegraph Hill funicular Looking up Greenwich Street as two cars enter the passing track (Source: [group 2:9a], Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks Documenting San Francisco History and Law Enforcement, ca. 1895-1936, BANC PIC 1996.003--fALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley).

The Telegraph Hill Railroad was not a cable car line by my definition; it was a funicular railway, which used two cars attached to a finite cable. The car going downhill helped to counterbalance the car going uphill.

The Telegraph Hill Railroad opened in 1884. It was promoted by Frederick O Layman. It ran along Greenwich Street, from Powell Street to another promotion of Layman's, the Pioneer Park Observatory, a large wooden resort near the present location of Coit Tower. The steam engine which drove the cable was in the basement of the pavillion. The railway used a single track with a passing siding at the middle. After a bad accident and declining traffic, the line closed in 1886. Parts of Greenwich Street on which the line ran are no longer graded.

The Pavillion remained open for some time, but must have been very difficult to reach.
Observatory The Telegraph Hill Railroad's destination was the Pioneer Park Observatory. Note the funicular car at the upper terminal and the time ball on the roof. The time ball dropped at noon to allow captains on the bay to set their chronometers. I remember when a later version of the ball was located on the Pacific Bell Building on New Montgomery. (Source: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-1540).

from Poor's Directory of Railway Officials, 1887

P. 233

Telegraph Hill Street (Cable) R.R. Co. operates 0.59 miles of road and owns 2 cars. Gustave Sutro, Pres. & Treas., Charles D. Werner, Sec., Supt. & P.A. -- GENERAL OFFICE, Greenwich & Kearney Sts., San Francisco, Cal.

from Rand, McNally & Co.'s Guide to Southern California Direct: Narrative, Historical Descriptive, with Notes on California at Large by James William Steele, 1886

P. 118-119

A remarkable elevation, both in the old times and now, is the small mountain called Telegraph Hill, standing immediately south of the entrance to the harbor (Golden Gate). It has not been long since it was necessary to climb the steep ascent on foot if you wished to enjoy what is, on a clear day, a fine prospect. Now, the means of climbing Telegraph Hill add considerably to the attractiveness of the excursion. It is a cable car which seems to be attached permanently to the rope. The car is stopped and started again by means of an electric signal made by the conductor, which is responded to at some distant point by stopping the cable, instead of letting go of it as usual. Whether this is a measure of safety on perhaps the steepest decline ever climbed by cars, or a mere matter of convenience, it strikes the average passenger very forcibly with its ingenuity. The observatory on Telegraph Hill is very completely furnished with telescopes, field-glasses and other conveniences, and has also a restaurant, and is used by the population as a pleasure resort.

Looking up Greenwich Looking up Greenwich Street from Columbus in January, 2013. The Telegraph Hill Railroad followed this street, including a portion which no longer exists.

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Fillmore Hill Counterbalance

Fillmore Hill Counterbalance URR counterbalance cars carrying crowds to the opening of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. Photograph courtesy of the Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Counterbalances were sometimes used on electric streetcar lines that needed to climb steep hills. Typically, a finite cable that ran in a conduit under the street had a device at each end to which a car could attach itself. Cars would start at the top and the bottom at the same time; the weight of the descending car helped to pull the ascending car, and the weight of the ascending car helped to prevent the descending car from running away. Counterbalances replaced parts of cable car lines in Providence, Rhode Island, Seattle, Washington, and Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The Fillmore Hill counterbalance was built in 1895 by the Market Street Railway as part of its cross-town Fillmore Street electric line. The blocks from Broadway to Green were far too steep for electrics to ascend and descend unaided; the counterbalance solved the problem. Passengers would transfer from double truck electric cars at the top of the hill to a single truck car attached to the cable by a plow. When the car reached the bottom of the hill, it released the plow and ran on to Bay Street. The line was extended to Marina Boulevard on 29-Aug-1925.

Two newspaper articles describe accidents on the counterbalance. The 1907 article describes a pair of cars running as a train, but not, as far as I know, in multiple unit:

The counterbalance was the only United Rail Roads (successor to the MSR) line which reached the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition, held at the Marina. URR had all the single truck cars rebuilt as PAYE (Pay as You Enter) cars with MU (multiple unit) capabilities. The cars ran as trains only during the Exposition.

Counterbalances don't deal well with load fluctuations, because one car or train must go up and one must go down at a time. They are also complicated to deal with at the beginning and end of the work day. MSR (successor to URR) stored a weighted dummy car at the Turk and Fillmore car house. A regular 22 Fillmore car towed it out to the top of the hill. The attendant attached it to the cable, and it counterbalanced the last car up. It stayed in the middle of the intersection of Fillmore and Green, marked with a red lantern, all night. Automobiles often ran into it. In the morning, it counterbalanced the first car coming down. Then a regular 22 Fillmore car towed it back to the barn.

The counterbalance last ran on 05-Apr-1941. It was replaced, along with the Castro Street cable line and the 24 Divisadero streetcar line, by a single diesel bus line.

The rest of the 22 Fillmore line remained an electric streetcar line until 31-Jul-1948. Since 16-Jan-1949, the 22 Fillmore trolley bus line has covered the route. The blocks between Broadway and Green are too steep even for the trolley buses, which detour one block west to Steiner.

Fillmore Hill A postcard showing Market Street Railway counterbalance cars on the Fillmore Street Hill. The white fronts on the cars were a patented safety feature. The camera looks downhill from Broadway. November, 2008 Picture of the Month.
Fillmore and Chestnut Two counterbalance cars meet at Fillmore and Chestnut, near Marina Middle School in 1937. There must have been a third car waiting at the top of the hill. (Source: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-8451).
Fillmore and Vallejo Counterbalance car 624 meets its partner at Fillmore and Vallejo. From the 24-Apr-1940 San Francisco News: "Motorists proceeding eastward on Vallejo-St and approaching the Fillmore-St intersection are faced with this problem. The two cable cars on Fillmore-St's steep hill always cross at Vallejo-St, but one reaches the intersection just enough ahead of the other to divert a stranger's attention. Mr. Fixit suggests that a warning be placed on Vallejo-St, on each side of the intersection. This view, looking east across Fillmore-St, shows the added hazard of having to look over the hill. Notice, too, the youngsters clinging to the side of the cable car" (Source: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-8540).

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The Fairfax Incline Railway

Fairfax Incline Thumbnail Looking up the line of the Fairfax Incline Railway. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version. Use your browser's "Back" button to return.

Fairfax is a pretty suburb in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad extended its third rail electric line through Fairfax to Manor, on November 15, 1913. This sparked a development boom in Fairfax.

The promoters of Fairfax Manor, a hilly subdivision of Fairfax, built the single tracked 1500 foot long Fairfax Incline Railway in 1913 to help sell lots on Manor Hill along Redwood, Spruce, Scenic and Tamalpais Roads. The incline connected with the Northwestern Pacific commuter trains, which connected with ferry boats to San Francisco.

The real estate market softened in the late Twenties and died during the Great Depression. The incline was abandoned in 1929.

The Fairfax Historical Society has a nice web site with a section on the incline railroad.

Fairfax Incline Thumbnail The Fairfax Incline Railway's single car next to a promotional sign which reads:
THIS IS THE STARTING POINT
OF THE
FUNICULAR-INCLINE RAILROAD
1500 FT. 500 FT RISE
OPERATED BY ELECTRIC POWER
FAIRFAX MANOR
THE FIRST IN EVERYTHING
Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version. Use your browser's "Back" button to return.
September, 2000 Picture of the Month.

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Christmas on the Cables by Joe Lacey

Santa Thumbnail Santa arrives across the street from the Emporium in November, 1958. S. F. News Photo By Bob Warren. (Source: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-6752).
Former cable car conductor Joe Lacey has kindly shared his reminiscences about holiday time around the cable car system.

Christmas on the cables was always an interesting time. Before Thanksgiving, the major department stores would send decorating crews to the car barn to spruce up the cars for the holiday season. Included was the Emporium, the City of Paris, the White House, Macys, Roos Brothers, and others. The day after Thanksgiving, Santa would arrive at the Emporium via cable car from the car barn to Powell and Market and across the street, of course he had his elves. The Cable Cars would remain decorated with reindeer, snowmen, Santas, etc on the roofs and sides until after Christmas.

Another tradition on the cars was caroling. Church groups, office groups, clubs, teen groups, etc were welcome to call Muni and make arrangements to semi reserve a car on a certain night. They would arrange a date and, usually at night, time, and be instructed to board the car at one of the terminals. This was not a charter car as such. The group would be allowed to board at one of the terminals and each pay a fare, before the regular passengers were allowed on board. The car proceded in regular service picking up passengers at all stops. On a winter night in December the passenger traffic was usually light so this did not cause any difficulties to the cables regular traffic. The groups would sing carols as we made our way over the line, the talent ranged from very polished to some groups we couldn't wait to get to the end of the line. Most of the groups carried spirits both hot and cold to ward off the night chill, some of the the groups got pretty boisterous by the end of a one hour round trip, and a stop over at the Buena Vista. Anyway it was very San Francisco, and the Cable crews enjoyed it as it broke up a otherwise uneventful evening.

I mentioned semi charter car as opposed to a regular charter car which was paid for beforehand, and arrangements made, in which you got your own car and crew, that was not in regular service, and no regular passengers were allowed aboard and you called where you wanted to go, this was usually for movies and commercials though anyone could charter a car.

Christmas tree with cable cars Christmas tree decorated with cable cars, at Macys Holiday Lane, Stockton and O'Farrell. November, 2003. photo by Joe Thompson. December, 2003 Picture of the Month.

Powell/O'Farrell This 1946 Charles L Reed cartoon is from the December 1946 issue of Trolley Topics, MUNI's employees' newlsetter. It depicts a well-loaded Powell/Mason cable car on the turntable at Powell and Market. Some of the passers-by are also well-loaded. Note the pickpocket at work. From the Tom Matoff collection. December, 2007 Picture of the Month.

60 Cal/Drumm night Val Lupiz took this night view of car 60 at California and Drumm on 04-December-2007. Val Lupiz photo. All rights reserved. Read more about decorated cable cars, a living holiday tradition.
Read more about decorated cable cars, a living holiday tradition.

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Making Movies and Television Shows With Cable Cars

by Joe Lacey

Joe Lacey, former cable car conductor, shared some of his memories of movies and television shows being shot with cable cars.

I remember Flip Wilson doing part of a TV special on a Cable Car on Hyde Street near Union Street northbound in the late 1960's, does Ruby Begonia ring a bell?

When Cables were chartered for movies and commercials presented problems if movie take was not good and had to be reshot; we used to try to keep car on Hyde between Washington and Calif as there was no regular traffic. We tried to use Cal cars with double end if possible, sometimes used Wash-Mason wrecker to push car back and forth for retakes. Another problem natural lighting on this section of Hyde was poor, had to use reflectors and flood lights.

Also lower California Street on Sunday morning was good - no traffic or autos - good chance to use own autos and props. In the 60's there were only about two or three rubber tired Cable Cars, one owned by Muni, which was a Cal car from the O'Farrell shuttle mounted on a White coach frame.

I believe most movies now use the rubber tired cars as there are so many of them...

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The California & Powell Signal Tower

by Emiliano J Echeverria

Former Muni employee Emiliano J Echeverria has written this article with his memories about working the signal tower at California and Powell. Emiliano says "I worked the tower for 2 years, then I was trackman for the cable cars. I know the system intimately, sheave pits & all (I used to clean them)." Emiliano has published several articles in various publications about cable cars and steam dummies in San Francisco. He is also the Music Director of KPFA-FM in Berkeley.
Tower California and Powell signal tower. July 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

So you want to work the tower, hell its simple, I'll give you a rundown. You sit in a well worn chair or stool for 8 hours.

As you sit you see a Powell car approachng the Pine Street level. A Cal car is sitting at Stockton waiting for his 'green'. You let Stockton Cal car go 'cause his run is the longest to traverse from Stockton past Powell. Once the Cal car clears the Powell tracks you let the northbound Pine Street Powell car go, and if a southbound Powell car is waiting, let him go too --- but time it right!

In rainy weather only: never let a Powell car cross California Street until the Cal car desending from Mason has come to a complete stop. Sometimes the cars slide across the intersection!

When the lights screw up, go out and flag the intersection. The exercise will do you good, but step lively those auto drivers are serious.

If a car gets stuck on or just past the crown, you are to see to it that the gripman drops the cable, order him, if necessary. Call the shop truck to push them over the crown.

You are required to report violations by any Muni personnel.

When you want to use the bathroom, let the Stockton Cal car go green, then leave them solid red. Put the rest of the lights on flashing red/green. This permits the gripman to proceed with caution. Hurry up, you have 15 minutes!

When it rains, use the cloth tobacco pouch to oil the windows, just like on the cars.

Though now pushbuttons control the lights, the original installation used continuously lit lights with pully operated gels and shutters, which lasted until the 1970's.

The Tower was knocked over, and its operator killed when a truck hit it. The remains of the tower were repaired, restored to its original position, and it still sits there today. This occurred in 1935.

The Tower was the first building in its vicinity to be in service after the fire of 1906. The current building was completed and began operations in January, 1907, three months before the reopening of the Fairmont Hotel. The original tower burned in 1906.

The current color scheme of the Tower, green & white, is a faithful restoration of the colors worn from 1926 until 1949, which were the colors of the Market St Railway. I with the help of some volunteers repainted the Tower back to this scheme in 1989.

The Tower was under dual ownership from 1887 until the Cal cable was bought by Muni in 1952.

The pointed roof with the balls was installed in 1969, replacing an earlier shingled roof of lesser pitch. I beleive that this is one of, if not the last, manned street railway signal towers in the U.S.

The foregoing copyright 2000 by Emiliano J. Echeverria, All Rights reserved. Used by special arrangement for the Cable Car Home Page.
Tower The signal tower at California and Powell with the Fairmont Hotel in the background. An inbound California Street car pauses before crossing the intersection.
Tower after accident The signal tower after a fatal accident in 1935. It was hit by a runaway auto on a damp day. (Source: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-3094).

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Current Fares, Effective July, 2011.

  • Cash: Pay the conductor on the car (no transfers accepted or issued)
    • Adult: $6.00 each way
    • Youth: $6.00 each way
    • Senior and Disabled: $5.00 each way ($1.00 9pm-7am)
  • Passes
    • FastPass: Monthly unlimited riding, also good on BART within SF
      • Adult: $72.00
      • Youth: $21.00
      • Senior and Disabled: $21.00
      • FastPass: Monthly unlimited riding, NOT good on BART
        • Adult: $62.00
        • Youth: $21.00
        • Senior and Disabled: $21.00
      • All-Day Pass sold by conductors on the cars
        • $14.00 (good on all Muni vehicles, like the Passport, but only sold on the cable cars)
      • Passports: A good deal for visitors or locals. Can be purchased online in advance.
        • One Day: $14.00
        • Three Days: $21.00
        • Seven Days: $27.00

      The adult cash fare for other Muni vehicles remains $2.00. The discount fare is $0.75.

    • City Pass: A seven-day Muni pass plus admission to several local attactions.
      • Adult: $69.00
      • Youth (5-17): $39.00

Fares Before July, 2011.

  • Cash: Pay the conductor on the car (no transfers accepted or issued)
    • Adult: $5.00 each way
    • Youth: $5.00 each way
    • Senior and Disabled: $5.00 each way ($1.00 9pm-7am)
  • Passes
    • FastPass: Monthly unlimited riding, also good on BART within SF
      • Adult: $55.00
      • Youth: $15.00
      • Senior and Disabled: $15.00
    • All-Day Pass sold by conductors on the cars
      • $11.00 (good on all Muni vehicles, like the Passport, but only sold on the cable cars)
    • Passports: A good deal for visitors or locals. Can be purchased online in advance.
      • One Day: $11.00
      • Three Days: $18.00
      • Seven Days: $24.00

    The adult cash fare for other Muni vehicles went up from $1.50 to $2.00. The discount fare went from $0.50 to $0.75.

  • City Pass: A seven-day Muni pass plus admission to several local attactions.
    • Adult: $42.00
    • Youth (5-17): $34.00

Fares Before July, 2009.

  • Cash: Pay the conductor on the car (no transfers accepted or issued)
    • Adult: $5.00 each way
    • Youth: $5.00 each way
    • Senior and Disabled: $5.00 each way ($1.00 9pm-7am)
  • Passes
    • FastPass: Monthly unlimited riding, also good on BART within SF
      • Adult: $45.00
      • Youth: $12.00
      • Senior and Disabled: $12.00
    • All-Day Pass sold by conductors on the cars
      • One Day: $10.00 (cable cars only, not buses or electric streetcars)
      • Effective 01-April-2006: One day: $11 (good on all Muni vehicles, like the Passport, but only sold on the cable cars)
    • Passports: A good deal for visitors or locals. Can be purchased online in advance.
      • One Day: $11.00
      • Three Days: $18.00
      • Seven Days: $24.00
  • City Pass: A seven-day Muni pass plus admission to several local attactions.
    • Adult: $42.00
    • Youth (5-17): $34.00

Fares Before September, 2005

  • Cash: Pay the conductor on the car (no transfers accepted or issued)
    • Adult: $3.00 each way
    • Youth: $3.00 each way
    • Senior and Disabled: $3.00 each way ($1.00 9pm-7am)
  • Passes
    • FastPass: Monthly unlimited riding, also good on BART within SF
      • Adult: $45.00
      • Youth: $10.00
      • Senior and Disabled: $10.00
    • Passports: A good deal for visitors or locals - can be purchased from conductors on the cars
      • One Day: $9.00
      • Three Days: $15.00
      • Seven Days: $20.00

Fares Before September, 2003

  • Cash: Pay the conductor on the car (no transfers accepted or issued)
    • Adult: $2.00 each way
    • Youth: $2.00 each way
    • Senior and Disabled: $2.00 each way ($1.00 9pm-7am)
  • Passes
    • FastPass: Monthly unlimited riding, also good on BART within SF
      • Adult: $35.00
      • Youth: $8.00
      • Senior and Disabled: $8.00
    • Passports: A good deal for visitors or locals - can be purchased from conductors on the cars
      • One Day: $6.00
      • Three Days: $10.00
      • Seven Days: $15.00

Check Muni's official home page for locations where passes are sold.

Historic Fares

Muni fares used to charge the same fare for cable cars, electric streetcars, and buses. Thanks to Cameron Beach for the dates.
Effective DateFareComments
30-June-1969$0.20-
01-June-1952$0.15-
20-May-1946$0.10-
29-September-1944$0.07Merger with Market Street Railway, which had raised its fares to $0.07 in 1938
28-December-1912$0.05Muni started service. Other public transit companies also charged a nickel fare

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Is It "Mahoney" or "Mahony?" by Walter Rice

Mahony plate Builder's plate from Powell Street cable car 524. Credit: The late Richard Schlaich Collection, Walter Rice Collection.

This original builders' plate is from today's Powell Street cable car No. 24 (formerly 524) that was built in 1887 for the Ferries and Cliff House Railway (also known as the Powell Street Railway). The spelling of "Mahony" appears to be a foundry error, since the company is listed in the San Francisco City Directories for the period "Mahoney Brothers - Carpenters and Builders, 307 Van Ness Avenue."

No. 24's original 1887 number is unknown. In 1893 the Ferries and Cliff House Railway became part of the Southern Pacific Railroad owned Market Street Railway and that company soon adopted the Metropolitan numbering system, whereby a unique series of numbers was assigned for each route or grouping of routes. The car was assigned the number 534, indicating it was assigned to the Sacramento-Clay and/or Sacramento-Jackson cable lines.

As 534 it survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, since during the time of the holocaust it was in storage at the company's Central Avenue (now Presidio Avenue) car house that was located on the south side of Sacramento Street between Central Avenue and Walnut Street. After 1906 all the surviving 500-class cable cars were assigned to the Powell Street lines. All of the Powell Street fleet (400-class cable cars) had been destroyed along with the almost total destruction of Washington-Mason car house.

On December 16, 1929 the Market Street Railway (of 1921) renumbered 534 to 524. The car is of historic importance. Under the sponsorship of the Western Pacific Railroad, No. 524 was operated at the Chicago Railroad Fair 1949. On September 2, 1956, car No. 524 made the last trip on the Washington-Jackson line.

The Mahoney Bros. (1885-1917) are often credited with building cable cars in San Francisco. During 1887-1888 the Mahoney Bros. were the general contractor for the construction of the Ferries and Cliff House Railway's two original lines - Powell-Mason and Powell-Jackson. As part of their contract they received the car building order. However, their building at 307 Van Ness was not big enough for car building. Strong evidence suggests that the Mahoney Bros. awarded the construction of the F&CH cars to Burham-Standeford & Co., also known as the Oakland Planing Mill. This company operated in Oakland a large woodworking complex on Washington Street adjacent to the Southern Pacific Railroad. A Ferries & Cliff House cable car (erroneously numbered 32) was the centerpiece on the Burnham-Standeford & Co. company letterhead. Nevertheless, "Mahony Bros." builder's plates were placed on these cars. Today, Muni is placing on cars whose number implies a former Mahoney Bros. car a "Mahony Bros." builder's plate. The Mahoney Bros. were also the contractor hired by the City of San Francisco to remove the former cable trackage of the Geary Street, Park & Ocean Railroad. This work started on May 5, 1912. The company built the trackage for the Municipal Railway's first electric streetcar lines - "A" Geary & Park and "B" Geary Shuttle (10th Avenue to 33rd Avenue) - that opened December 28, 1912.

Thanks to input from Harold Cox, Val Lupiz and Don Holmgren - Walter Rice.

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SEC. 16.100. Cable Cars

Section 16 of the Charter of the City and County of San Francisco was adopted by the voters through Proposition Q in November, 1971. It froze minimum cable car service in the city at the levels of 01-Jul-1971. The proposition was a response to threats by Muni management to reduce service.

In the conduct of the public transportation system there shall be maintained and operated cable car lines as follows:

1. A line commencing at Powell and Market Streets; thence along Powell Street to Jackson Street; thence along Jackson Street to Mason Street; thence along Mason Street to Columbus Avenue; thence along Columbus Avenue to Taylor Street; thence along Taylor Street to a terminal at Bay Street; returning from Bay and Taylor Streets along Taylor Street to Columbus Avenue; thence along Columbus Avenue to Mason Street; thence along Mason Street to Washington Street; thence along Washington Street to Powell Street; and thence along Powell Street to Market Street, the point of commencement.

2. A line commencing at Powell and Market Streets; thence along Powell Street to Jackson Street; thence along Jackson Street to Hyde Street; thence along Hyde Street to a terminal at Beach; returning from Beach and Hyde Streets along Hyde Street to Washington Street; thence along Washington Street to Powell Street; thence along Powell Street to Market Street, the point of commencement.

3. A line commencing at Market and California; thence along California Street to a terminal at Van Ness Avenue; returning from Van Ness Avenue along California Street to Market Street, the point of commencement.

To fully effectuate the intent of this section, these lines shall be maintained and operated at the normal levels of scheduling and service in effect on July 1, 1971; provided, however, that nothing herein contained shall prevent the increasing of the levels of scheduling and service.

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Sections of the San Francisco Traffic Code Relating to Cable Cars

San Francisco Traffic Code
ARTICLE 3 OBEDIENCE TO SIGNS AND STOPPING OR PARKING
SEC. 31.2. DRIVING ON EXCLUSIVE CABLE CAR LANES ON POWELL STREET.

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SEC. 31.2. DRIVING ON EXCLUSIVE CABLE CAR LANES ON POWELL STREET.

Except as to cable cars, Municipal Railway vehicles, and authorized emergency vehicles, it shall be unlawful for the operator of any vehicle to drive on the exclusive cable car lanes on Powell Street between California Street and Sutter Street over, upon or across the cable car lanes or to make any left or U-turn on the exclusive cable car lanes except for passing a disabled vehicle. (Added by Ord. 204-74, App. 4/24/74)

San Francisco Traffic Code
ARTICLE 6 STREETCARS

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San Francisco Traffic Code
ARTICLE 6 STREETCARS
SEC. 129.1. SINGLE-ENDED CABLE CARS.

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SEC. 129.1. SINGLE-ENDED CABLE CARS.

On single-ended streetcars propelled by cable, the maximum number of passengers that may ride standing on the right-hand running board is six, and on the left-hand running board the maximum number is eight. No more than two passengers may stand on running boards between each vertical stanchion. (Added by Ord. 65-77, App. 2/18/77)

San Francisco Traffic Code
ARTICLE 6 STREETCARS
SEC. 129.2. DOUBLE-ENDED CABLE CARS.

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SEC. 129.2. DOUBLE-ENDED CABLE CARS.

On double-ended streetcars propelled by cable, the maximum number of passengers that may ride standing on each running board is four. No more than two passengers may stand on the running board between each stanchion. (Added by Ord. 65-77, App. 2/18/77)

San Francisco Traffic Code
ARTICLE 6 STREETCARS
SEC. 129.3. CABLE CARS-STANDING.

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SEC. 129.3. CABLE CARS-STANDING.

On any streetcar propelled by cable, passengers are prohibited from standing between the forward cabin door and the gripman, in the entryways, on those portions of the running boards forming part of the entryways, and on the prohibited areas of the rear platform of single-ended cars as designated by the Municipal Railway. (Added by Ord. 65-77, App. 2/18/77)

San Francisco Traffic Code
ARTICLE 6 STREETCARS
SEC. 129.4. CABLE CARS-SIGNING.

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SEC. 129.4. CABLE CARS-SIGNING.

Every streetcar propelled by cable shall carry legible signs stating the limitation on standing passengers on running boards and a prohibition against passengers leaning out. (Added by Ord. 65-77, App. 2/18/77)

San Francisco Traffic Code
ARTICLE 6 STREETCARS
SEC. 129.5. CABLE CARS-MOVING RESTRICTED.

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SEC. 129.5. CABLE CARS-MOVING RESTRICTED.

Crew members are prohibited from moving a streetcar propelled by cable while the number of passengers or their location in exterior areas are in violation of Sections 129.1, 129.2, 129.3 and 129.4 of this Code. (Added by Ord. 65-77, App. 2/18/77)

San Francisco Administrative Code
APPENDICES INITIATIVE ORDINANCES
APPENDIX 2 REGULATION OF STREET RAILWAY CARS

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APPENDIX 2
REGULATION OF STREET RAILWAY CARS

Adopted May 2, 1935

Providing for the Operation of Street Railway Cars by a Motorman and Conductor, Specifying the Entrance Age of Employees on Street Railways, and Providing a Penalty for Violations Thereof.

Be it Ordained by the People of the City and County of San Francisco:

SECTION 1.

Every street railway car and every cable car while carrying passengers in the City and County of San Francisco, except street railway cars acquired or to be acquired by the City and County of San Francisco subsequent to January 1, 1939, shall be in charge of a motorman or a gripman and a conductor; every motorman and gripman and conductor employed in the operation of any street railway car or cable car must be an adult of not less than 21 years of age.

This ordinance shall not be repealed, modified or amended except by vote of the electorate.

SECTION 2.

Any person, firm or corporation violating any provision of this ordinance shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined for each offense, not less than $50 nor more than $300, or by imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months in the County Jail of the City and County of San Francisco, or by both such fine and imprisonment. (Adopted, 1935; amended, 1954)

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Excerpt from "The Parks of San Francisco" by Charles S. Greene

A Sunday Load "A Sunday Load" A Market Street Railway cable car on the Hayes or Haight Street line carrying a load of Sunday excursionists to Golden Gate Park (Source: Overland monthly and Out West Magazine (Volume 17, Issue 99 - March, 1891)). Dec 1998 Picture of the Month.

Charles S. Greene's article "The Parks of San Francisco" appeared in the Overland monthly and Out West Magazine (Volume 17, Issue 99 - March, 1891). It describes how cable cars brought people to Golden Gate Park and how connecting steam trains brought them to the beach.

...no great proportion of the people of San Francisco are within walking distance of it (Golden Gate Park). This is a misfortune, and would be a much graver one, were it not for the many systems of cable roads that for five cents bring people swiftly to the Park from any part of town. From Oakland Ferry to the Park is four miles, a long ride for five cents...

By far the greater part of these people go the Park by the cable cars, and all the lines reaching the Park are taxed to their utmost on a pleasant Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, by a cosmopolitan load...

Perhaps no better device was ever invented than these cable cars, for handling crowds of people quickly and safely. The terminus is black with people and the cars as they approach are swarmed upon so thickly that no inch of foothold is unoccupied, and yet an accident at this point and because of the crowd is unknown. By waiting over a car or two it is almost always possible to get a seat, and the stream of cars coming and going soon diminishes the crush...

The multitude is carried to the beach by the Cliff House and Ferries Road, connecting with the Jackson and California Street cable lines, and by the Park and Ocean Road, connecting with the Market Street and Omnibus systems of cable cars. In the last line an additional five cents carries one from the Park entrance to the ocean's edge. There is but one serious discomfort, and that is one so easily to be overcome that it seems like a wanton disregard of their patrons' interests that the companies allow it to continue. This is the cinders. The cars are open for the most part, as they should be, and I have never yet ridden to the ocean and back that I have not either got cinders in my own eye, or witnessed the sufferings of other unfortunates from this cause. The Park and Ocean cars are the most troublesome in this respect, and it would seem to be a simple matter to attaach some kind of a device to the smokestacks of the engines that would remedy the trouble.

There is a franchise soon to be put into effect, I am told, for an electric line to the Park, and skirting it to the ocean.

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Excerpt from Travels with Jottings by Edward D Holton

California and Kearney The original terminal of the California Street Cable Railroad (Source: [volume 3:group 4:35], Roy D. Graves Pictorial Collection, ca. 1850-ca. 1968, BANC PIC 1905.17500--ALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley).

In 1880, Edward D Holton, businessman, published Travels with jottings. From midland to the Pacific. Letters by E.D. Holton. Written for, and published chiefly, as souvenirs to personal acquaintances and friends, an account of his 1879-1880 cross country vacation with his wife and grandson. This excerpt, from a letter dated 20-Jan-1880, describes a trip on the two-year-old California Street Cable Railroad. The Grand Hotel was across New Montgomery from the famous Palace Hotel. Full text is available from the Library of Congress' American Memory site.

Now for the ocean and the sea lions. Come with me from our home in the Grand Hotel on Market street up Montgomery due north four blocks to California street. Here we come to a new and peculiar street railway. It consists of what is called a dummy and an ordinary street railway car. They are attached. The dummy draws the car. The dummy has outside seats running lengthwise of the car. Between the seats are the levers and machinery for propelling the two cars, and there stands the engineer. There is no steam on board. You ask how is this train propelled? Between the track and under ground is a cable running upon rollers for the length of the road, say three miles. Access to this cable is had by a crack running in the center of the track of the width of one inch, through which descends an arm of iron, say eight inches wide and three-fourths of an inch thick, which at the pleasure of the engineer can grasp the revolving, or passing cable, and so have his train carried on as fast as the cable goes. A stationary engine of large power revolves this cable. I have not been to these works as I intend to do, to learn more particularly the facts of this California invention. But we are aboard on California street, and the first dash is made right up a steep hill at as swift a rate as we go down hill or as we go on the level. In passing along this road we go by the palatial homes of the Stanfords', the Hopkins' and the Coltons', and many others. They are upon heights that command land and water for wide distances. But on we go over hill and dale. Plebian homes are in the hollows (which are best off when the wind blows and the sand flies in clouds) and patricians on the mountain tops. Three miles brought us to the end of this superb method of locomotion. Here we come to an omnibus for the remaining four miles to the ocean, a light one drawn by two horses. The young man in charge tells me his horses are good, that he charges twenty-five cents for each passenger, and that he came from the State of Maine. Well, away we go over as fine a macadamized road as you ever drove upon. In this journey we are in the midst of sand mountains. Originally they had no verdure or shrubbery upon them, but now they have been largely appropriated to homes for the dead. Protestant cemeteries, Catholic cemeteries, Jewish cemeteries, and Masonic cemeteries. Trees have been planted and varied artistic floral and horticultural work supplied, so that the desert is redeemed. But ah, see, see! Was it the Spaniard Balboa who in 1523 first set European eyes upon the Pacific Ocean? His gladness was celebrated by religious observances. Well, Neddie, the boy, cried out "Grandpa, there's the ocean," and clapped his litttle hand, and his grandpa lifted his hat at the grand sight, and I guess his grandma thought, if she did not shout, Amen.

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