San Francisco’s F-Line
San Francisco’s F-Line
The story of how America's most exciting and successful new transportation experience was built!
Perfect Bound Softcover
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San Francisco's F-Line is the fun way to ride transit in one of America's greatest cities. Using multi-colored streetcars, built in the 1940s, 1920s and even earlier, it is a transforming experience that carries the rider back to a more genteel and carefree time, while providing an efficient and pleasant way to get from here to there in a modern era. Its creation has shown the world that public transportation can be exciting, fun, and a source of civic pride. The author, an active participant in the success of the F-Line, has written the book in an upbeat and breezy style, sprinkling anecdotes drawn from his own experiences and those of fellow workers and participants throughout the book. In this way, the book will appeal not only to those who are in, or follow, the transit industry, but also to the average reader, rider, and San Francisco Bay Area resident. Anyone who rides the F-Line will get a much fuller appreciation of this great city. This book has 290 pages with over 500 color and black-and-white photographs.
THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY of electrified urban public transport in the United States, there are a few events which truly stand out, and which also have affected and made a lasting impression on millions of Americans, as well as visitors from afar. Some of these milestones include the perfection of the electric trolley car by Frank Sprague in 1888, which brought cheap and reliable transportation to American cities; his later invention of multiple-unit control for rapid transit trains, which led to the creation of elevated networks in Chicago, Brooklyn and Manhattan; and the opening of the first subway in Boston in 1897, followed seven years later by the first major subway system in New York. Other milestones included the opening of this country’s first major publicly-owned street railway system in San Francisco in 1912; the development of the PCC streetcar in the 1930s; the new wave of subways in San Francisco, Washington, Atlanta and Los Angeles starting in the 1970s; and finally, the renaissance of surface electric urban rail, which began in San Diego in 1981, after streetcar technology had all but died out in America. To this list, one must certainly add San Francisco’s wonderful and colorful F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar line. To be sure, the F-Line is not the first of its kind. That honor belongs to the St. Charles Streetcar line in New Orleans, whose olive green trolleys have been plying the line since 1924, earning it National Historic Landmark status (the line itself was established in 1835). The F-Line was also not the first new permanent historic trolley route constructed and integrated with a city’s transit system; the nod here goes to Seattle’s Waterfront Streetcar in 1982, joined by Dallas in 1989 and Memphis in 1993. (Actually, Detroit’s Downtown trolley line was the first, in 1976, but it was abandoned in 2003.) And it was not even the first city to introduce colorful streetcars; witness Pittsburgh’s multi-colored PCCs in the 1970s, where one writer remarked, “I can’t think of a better pastime than to watch the colorful trolleys go by.” (Ironically, the same man who instigated Pittsburgh’s flamboyant PCC trolley liveries was the one who later became general manager of Muni during the Trolley Festivals–Harold H. Geissenheimer.) But its origins in the Trolley Festival years of 1983-1987, its unique international fleet and colorful liveries, its extension to Fisherman’s Wharf in 2000, and its high ridership and frequent service have made the F-Line the most successful and influential historic transit operation in the country. Indeed, transit and civic officials from across the United States and all over the world have descended on the F-Line to study why it works and how such a relaxing reminder of a more genteel time can be made to work in their own cities. The evidence continues to mount. Since 2001, Kenosha, Tampa and Little Rock have built and opened new, low-budget historic trolley systems, while Dallas, Memphis and New Orleans have extended theirs. But the principal reason for the F-Line’s runaway success is that it was conceived as a major transit line in a city that already enjoys high transit ridership. Figures from the 1970s and 1980s show that San Francisco had the second-highest per capita transit ridership in the United States, after New York City. The fact that the F-Line is a rail service was enough to spark a 43% increase in ridership over the bus service it replaced in 1995. Its acceptance, from its very first day of operation on September 1, 1995, and its quick assimilation into the fabric of everyday life and public transportation, is a tribute to the way it was planned from the very beginning. Another aspect of the F-Line’s success is that it serves four distinct markets: commuters, short-trip discretionary riders, residents, and tourists. A survey conducted during the Trolley Festival years showed that ridership was split in thirds between locals, Bay Area residents and people from outside the area. Clearly, this was a recipe for success! And the Trolley Festivals only operated from May to October. The F-Line operates 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Re-instituting heritage streetcar lines aren’t the only tool in American cities’ efforts to improve transportation by bringing back rail transit. The light rail transit (LRT) renaissance began in 1981 in San Diego (and in two Canadian cities–Edmonton and Calgary–before that). By 2011, LRT had been introduced to 16 more American conurbations, and in virtually all of them, ridership has boomed as Americans rediscover the pleasures and efficiencies of electric rail transport. Many of these new systems also mix historic streetcars on their light rail tracks, either full-time or on weekends, and for special occasions. Many of the original LRT systems have expanded significantly, and at least three more cities will introduce light rail over the next five years. The light rail-building boom has even extended to cities that never completely abandoned the streetcar, such as Boston, Cleveland, Newark, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Peter Ehrlich, born in 1946, currently resides in Carmel, New York. He lived in San Francisco for 44 years, from 1966 to 2010. Mr. Ehrlich was employed by the San Francisco Municipal Railway as a streetcar operator from 1979 to 2005, the last ten years as an F-Line operator, and served with distinction. He broke in on Muni’s vintage fleet in 1982, and was assigned to the 1987 Trolley Festival. Throughout his employment, he studied San Francisco transit history closely, and the events that led to the creation of today’s F-Line. Mr. Ehrlich also began developing his photographic skills during his time in San Francisco. His main film cameras were a series of Minolta X-700s, a Nikon F3, and later a Nikon F100, and others. He graduated to digital photography in 2002 with a Nikon D100. He now uses a D700. His photographs have been appeared in the Market Street Railway’s Museums In Motion cameras, and extensively on Yahoo!’s Flickr site, and the site. He has his own photography business, Mr. Ehrlich is also an accomplished musician. Until joining Muni in 1979, he ran his own music business teaching recorder and selling Renaissance woodwinds and music for recorders.


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