Why Cable Cars?
Cable Cars are iconic symbols of San Francisco and attract over eight million riders each year. They offer the charm of Victorian San Francisco of the late 19th Century and provide transit to important destinations such as Powell and Market, Fisherman’s Wharf, Nob Hill and the Embarcadero. Riding the cable cars is easy. Simply purchase a MUNI “passport” ticket from any cable car conductor. MUNI Passport tickets are available for one day, three day or seven day use.
In 1873 the first cable car line in San Francisco began public service. The Clay Street Line was estimated to cost $85,150 to build. The idea evolved in 1869 when inventor Andrew Smith Hallidie witnessed horses struggling on wet cobblestones to pull a horse cart up Jackson Street. Hallidie took advantage of his knowledge of a wire rope cable that his father had invented in Great Britain. He had been using this cable to haul ore from mines during the gold rush and to build suspension bridges. By the 1890’s cable cars traversed most of San Francisco from the downtown out to Ocean Beach.
Cable cars run on a steel track set above a channel enclosing a wire cable. The cable continuously moves at a constant speed and the cars stop and start by releasing and gripping this cable. A series of braking mechanisms assist in braking the car and regulating its speed. These include the wheel brakes, track brakes and emergency brake. The cable is powered by an engine. The power plant includes the car barn and Museum. You can visit the Cable Car Museum located at 1201 Mason Street at Washington. Admission is free.
Moving into the 20th Century, the cable cars were in competition with the electric streetcar and in 1947 the mayor of San Francisco determined it was time to get rid of the Cable Cars in favor of the newer electric buses. A citizens’ committee was formed to save the cable cars. The effort was led by Friedel Klussmann for whom the Powell-Hyde line turnaround was named to honor in 1997.
In 1982 cable car service was suspended for about two years while renovations took place under the Cable Car System Rehabilitation Program. Today the San Francisco Cable Cars provide an entertaining ride for visitors and efficient travel through the downtown area for locals. We now have three active lines running seven days a week. The three lines are the Powell/Mason line, the Powell/Hyde line, and the California Street line.