Glitch disrupts cable car line

An electrical malfunction shut down the California cable car line for two hours Wednesday morning, marking at least the fourth time in the last six weeks that equipment problems disrupted service on San Francisco’s iconic moving landmarks.

Muni maintenance workers first reported a problem with the California line, which brings passengers from Drumm Street to Van Ness Avenue, at 6:04 a.m., Muni officials said. Service was restored by 8 a.m.

The cable car lines bring in more than $22.4 million for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency — accounting for roughly 16 percent of total transit fare revenue — and the perennially cash-strapped department can ill afford to have its top tourist draw out of commission, but Muni officials say the 140-year-old lines are not in need of a major overhaul.

Although the SFTMA does not keep official statistics on service disruptions, each year there are roughly 50 strand alarms — warnings that cable wires are damaged — that cause at least momentary stoppages. Other setbacks, such as electrical malfunctions and mechanical problems, have shut down service on the cable cars this year, with the delays ranging from a few hours to an entire day.

SFMTA spokesman Judson True pointed to several performance standards that indicate the cable cars’ reliability. Cable cars delivered on more than 97 percent of their scheduled service hours during the past year, and the fleet logged an average of more than 5,300 miles between mechanical breakdowns.

True said the department is constantly working to improve those numbers.

“Our goal is to minimize service disruptions on these rolling historic landmarks,” True said. “But for a moving national landmark, the cable car service works remarkably well.”

When the cable cars do go out of service for extended periods, Muni replaces them with bus shuttles. However, that’s hardly the same experience for most tourists.

The SFMTA’s three cable car lines carry an average of 19,041 passengers each weekday. On Saturday that number increases to 21,943 and on Sunday the total is 19,300.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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