By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
S.F. Examiner Staff Writer
Muni can’t train enough operators to maintain its current level of service on the F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar line, the agency revealed Tuesday.
Those colorful historic streetcars run up and down Market Street from the Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf, and are oft-the apple of tourists’ eyes. They hail from Italy, from Los Angeles, from Philadelphia, and beyond.
But now they’ll run less often.
The service reduction for the F streetcar, which carries roughly 19,700 riders every day, was announced by Julie Kirschbaum, director of transit at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency at the agency’s Tuesday Board of Directors meeting.
In some ways the service cuts were already taking place, she said. A dearth of operators caused holes in Muni’s scheduled runs. Now that declining service will be memorialized in the expected number of streetcars hitting the street.
“Instead of having big gaps in service, everything will be smoothed out to match our resource levels,” Kirschbaum said.
The announcement accompanied a number of improvements on other Muni lines across San Francisco, including double-long buses on the 7-Haight Noriega line, increasing morning service to morning Muni riders on the 9R route, and — in an oft-requested move — offering full-length early morning weekend bus shuttles to replace J, K, L, M, N and T trains, which are out of service in mornings for track work.
“I’m really excited about the morning weekend service, it’s targeting vulnerable customers who are depending on our service to get to their jobs,” Kirschbaum said.
But even as Muni makes some strides, its operator shortage is leading to service cuts elsewhere in the system. Kirschbaum also announced the reduction of evening service on the 31X-Richmond Express line, and urged riders to instead take the 38-Geary or 5R-Fulton Rapid to go back to the West Side from downtown.
The problems on the F historic streetcars are particularly pronounced, she said. Only one in three Muni operators graduate from historic streetcar training, she said, whereas more than 85 percent of Muni bus operators graduate training.
It’s a tough type of transit to learn. Many of the streetcars hail from different parts of the country, or the world, and use different piloting mechanisms. The Milan car from Italy, Kirschbaum noted, is only steered by hand, no foot-pedals required.
On top of that, operators of a heftier size have also complained that the streetcars — some made in the early 1900s — were built when people tended to be smaller.
When asked for a timeline on when operators would be beefed up on the historic streetcars, Kirschbaum said “training is ongoing.”
Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Roger Marenco, who represents Muni operators, also used to drive the F streetcar himself.
He said the reason Muni has trouble attracting streetcar operators because they instituted onerous split-shifts.
“I don’t need two hours to eat a damn burrito,” Marenco said.
He added, “we are against any service cuts, period.”
Officials representing neighborhoods along the F were willing to give Muni a little leeway.
“There are people who love the F,” said Supervisor Raphael Mandelman, who represents the Castro neighborhood, among others, where the F streetcars terminate. But, he said, he understands if Muni has other priorities for his constituents in the Castro.
“If they were shifting operators from the F to make the J-Church (train) run on time, I’d be dancing on my chair,” he said.