Cable Cars i San Francisco. Note to myself

 Dagens 'note-to-myself' handlar om Cable Cars i San Francisco.

san francisco cable cars routes

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The San Francisco cable cars run on three routes. Two of them start from the same place at Powell and Market, so be sure you check the sign on the end and get on the right one.

•Powell-Hyde: (blue on the map). Goes from Market and Powell to Aquatic Park., past Union Square, the Cable Car Barn Museum, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Lombard (crookedest) Street, ends at Ghirardelli Square. Look for brown signs on the cars.

Powell-Mason: (yellow on the map) Goes from Market and Powell to Bay and Taylor Streets, through North Beach and ends near Fisherman's Wharf. Look for yellow signs on the cars.
California Street: (black on the map) Runs Drumm to Van Ness on California St., through the Financial District, Chinatown, Nob Hill. If you want to ride once just for the fun of it, this is the line to choose because it's less busy. If you want to visit Nob Hill, get off at the top and you'll save your legs a steep climb.

Buy tickets for the San Francisco cable cars at the turnarounds or from the conductor as you board. Your payment is good for only one ride and if you transfer from one line to another, you'll pay again. If you plan to make more than two rides a day, the conductors also sell all-day passes which are also good for the Market Street F-Line streetcar and all the city-run buses. The Muni website says the conductor can make change for only up to $20, so be sure you have smaller bills on hand.

You can get tickets and passes at the attended booths at the turnarounds at Powell and Market (near Union Square) or Hyde at Beach (just below Ghirardelli Square). You also get a 7-day MUNI passport when you buy a San Francisco CityPass, a good deal if you're also going to visit some of the attractions they bundle together.

If you find lots of people waiting, send one person to buy tickets while the rest of your group gets in line. If you plan to buy tickets from the conductor, it's best to have correct (or near-correct) change. As of late 2010, tickets were $5.00 each way (reduced to $2 for seniors over 65 years old and disabled persons, off-hours only). Children under 5 years old ride for free.

Don't despair when you get into a long line waiting to get on. The cable cars look like they don't hold very many people, but in fact they carry about sixty folks each when they're completely packed, so the lines go faster than you might expect.

You can board cable cars at the turnarounds listed above or anywhere you see a brown-and-white Cable Car Stop sign like the one in the picture on this page. Signs that say "do not board" mean it and no matter how much you wave or shout, the cars won't stop there. If you are boarding from a stop, wait on the sidewalk and wave as the car approaches, giving the grip person plenty of time to stop. Wait for the car to come to a complete stop and then board from either side.

To get off the cable car, this isn't a bus. Don't pull the rope (that's the bell rope, exclusively for the grip person's use). Just yell: "Next stop, please," about a block before you want to get off. If you wait too long to ask, the grip person needs some time to bring the car to a halt and he may have to take you to the next stop instead. The cable cars run from about 6:00 a.m. to about 1:00 a.m.

According to a friendly grip person who took time from eating his lunch to answer my question, people in wheelchairs ride the cable cars frequently. You just need someone along to help you get on and off.

On August 2, 1873, the first person to ride a San Francisco cable car down Clay Street was Andrew Hallidie, its inventor. He got the idea after witnessing an accident. A horse-drawn carriage was going up a steep hill when the team faltered and the carriage rolled backward downhill, dragging the horses behind it.

Hallidie's invention changed the way people in San Francisco lived, creating a vital link in the San Francisco transportation system and making it feasible for people to live on steep hills, which until then was impossible. The cable cars were an immediate success and by the 1890s, eight transit companies operated 600 cars on 21 routes covering over 50 miles.

Cable cars remained the primary mode of transportation until the 1906 earthquake, when most of system was destroyed. A municipal railway replaced most lines afterward. The iconic cars are the only vehicles of their kind still in operation and they are designated National Landmarks.

In 2010, the term "gripman" faded into history after being used for 137 years to describe the person who operates the cable car's brakes. When Willa Johnson became the second-ever woman cable car operator on April 12, 2010 , the city officially changed the name of the job to "grip person." Johnson's predecessor Fannie Barnes, retired from active cable car duty in 2002.

To learn more, visit the Cable Car Barn Museum, which is located at Mason and Washington and can be reached on the Powell-Mason or Powell-Hyde lines.