Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Crime & Emergencies
Published on August 11, 2015
New Steps Announced To Keep Cable Car Operators And Riders SafePhotos: Geri Koeppel/Hoodline

In the wake of two serious collisions between vehicles and cable car operators in the past four months, a new initiative to step up safety enhancements to keep operators and riders safe was announced at a press conference this morning at the California/Drumm cable car turnaround.

"For something that's as important and symbolic and as much of a treasure in San Francisco as cable cars are, we need to make sure that the people who operate them and the people who ride them can do so safely," said Ed Reiskin, SFMTA's director of transportation. The efforts are a result of discussions with Mayor Ed Lee in conjunction with SFMTA, SFPD, and the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A.

SFMTA's Ed Reiskin

The SFPD has already started handing out more tickets for drivers who pass stopped cable cars; a ticket will cost you $238. The driver and vehicle must be stopped at a reasonable distance for the duration of passenger boarding and exiting. "Nobody would ever think of passing a school bus for the fear of children exiting the school bus," said SFPD Chief Greg Suhr. "No latitude will be given. Please obey the law. Stop a reasonable distance behind the cable car."

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr

Suhr also said 15 tickets were handed out in the past week to motorists passing stopped cable cars. "If you can give 15 tickets in a week," he said, "it's a problem." When asked how long this push will last, he said, "Until it is an exception that someone passes a cable car."

All cable cars are now equipped with a stop sign for operators to hold when they leave the car. Signs will be placed on the back of cable cars to remind people of the California vehicle code. The SFMTA will evaluate all signage within the cable cars, along the routes and at key areas such as turnarounds to assess needed changes to increase safety. And a cable car collision reduction program is being developed to identify ways to reduce collisions involving cable cars.

District 3 Supervisor Julie Christensen spoke at the event; all of the historic streetcars and cable cars operate in her district. "I can attest to the need for safety on these lines," she said. "I myself came within about three feet of being struck exiting the California Street cable car about a month ago." She added not only are cable cars a tourist attraction, but many residents of the district use the lines to get to work, go to appointments and and do shopping. "It's important that these lines are both efficient and safe," she said. "I'm glad to see these steps taken."

District 3 Supervisor Julie Christensen

Eric Williams, the president of Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, said it's necessary to educate people and be proactive to prevent collisions like the ones that seriously injured cable car operators Santiago Montoya and Reynaldo Morante. Montoya was hit on April 6th on Powell Street between Washington and Jackson streets. He is still in rehabilitation. Morante suffered life-threatening injuries after being struck on June 11th on Taylor Street between Water Alley and Francisco Street by a motorcyclist who was drunk. He is still fighting for his life in the hospital.

Eric Williams

Reiskin said, "We're really grateful for the support from the police department, from the mayor and the board of supervisors. It's absolutely essential that we keep our employees safe; that we keep our riding public safe. As you all know, we adopted Vision Zero last year with the goal to eliminate traffic fatalities in San Francisco by the year 2024. Basically, the city's saying 'enough is enough.' People shouldn't be dying in our streets. People shouldn't be getting seriously injured in our streets just trying to get around town. And that extends to our own employees and the people who ride the cable cars."

For history about cable cars, visit the SFMTA cable cars page.