Muni’s historic F-Line celebrates 20 years

A much-traveled route featuring a historical San Francisco landmark is enjoying a birthday this month. And though they run on tracks and “ding,” they’re not the cable cars.

The City’s historic “F-Market & Wharves” streetcar line is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. Although they may not be as universally recognizable as their cable car cousins, the streetcars formed the backbone of Muni when the organization began in 1912.

The origin story of the F-Line as a route is not nearly so old, historic streetcar proponent Rick Laubscher said. Its planning dates back to the 1980s, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein was mayor.

At the time, Muni was not supportive, and tourist-dependent businesses in Fisherman’s Wharf thought it would steer away tourist drivers — and business.

But 20 years after the line began full-time service, the F-Line serves bustling bunches of tourists. There are so many riders (more than 23,000 daily) that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will add more cars to the line to address capacity issues.

And, as Sen. Feinstein said in July, the F-Line would not have started or been nearly as successful without Laubscher. He’s now the president of the Market Street Railway Association and was elated to celebrate the line’s anniversary.

“The time has just flown by! It doesn’t feel like 20 years that’s what I can tell you,” Laubscher said. “It’s astonishing to me that the streetcars continue to be embraced as they were at the beginning.”

“When you’re a [San Francisco]native, you know your town is special,” he said. “Part of that, is we’ve managed to maintain the town’s history and uniqueness.”

Those streetcars would be unique in any public transit fleet, as they’re festooned with lighting fixtures seemingly more in place in a noir film than the year 2015. Some carry wooden seats lacquered with a polish seldom seen in public amenities anymore.

SFMTA historian Jeremy Menzies recounted the F-Line’s historic origins in a recent post to the SFMTA’s “Moving SF” blog. Muni’s original F-Line was the F-Stockton, Menzies wrote, which was built in 1915 to bolster service to the Panama Pacific International Exposition.

The historic F-line, which ran for 36 years, essentially replicates the current 30-Stockton bus line: running from Market up Stockton, through North Beach and terminating in the Marina district at Scott Street.

The current F-Line runs from the Castro neighborhood, down Market street, and around the Ferry Building to Fisherman’s Wharf. Plans for years have languished to extend it to Fort Mason, utilizing an existing tunnel by Aquatic Park.

Ed Reiskin, head of the SFMTA, was appreciative of the agency’s partnership with Market Street Railway to acquire the historical streetcars.

“Implementing the F Market & Wharves line 20 years ago was an amazingly foresightful and practical way to honor Muni’s heritage,” Reiskin said.

Laubscher said he’s looking forward to the streetcars running for another 20 years and beyond.

“When a bright yellow streetcar comes by, or an original Muni car from the 1910s, that just makes my day,” he said. “I think that’s true of a lot of people.”

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