They are perhaps the most beloved transit vehicles on earth, and they’ve been “climbing halfway to the stars” in San Francisco since 1873. The three cable car lines currently in operation by the San Francisco Municipal Railway are the last three permanently operational manual cable car lines in the world. Because of this, they have the distinction of being the only transportation system listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cable cars operate by latching onto a moving underground cable. The operator, commonly called the “grip”, grips or releases the cable to move or stop the car. There are two types of cable cars in use – single-ended cars are used on the Powell Street lines and have to be manually turned around on large turntables, while double-ended cars (pictured) are used on the California Street line. The three lines combined averaged 24,079 daily boardings according to Muni’s 2008 Transit Effectiveness Project.
Powell-Hyde: This cable car line uses single-ended cars. The line begins at the turnaround on Powell at Market Street and serves Union Square, Chinatown, Nob Hill, and Russian Hill before terminating at a turntable by the Bay at Hyde and Beach. This is the most popular cable car line, averaging 10,905 daily boardings according to the Transit Effectiveness Project.
Powell-Mason: This cable car line uses single-ended cars. The line begins at the turnaround on Powell and Market Street and serves Union Square, Chinatown, Nob Hill, and North Beach before terminating at a turntable at Bay and Taylor. This line averaged 6,578 daily boardings according to the 2008 TEP.
California: This cable car line uses double-ended cars. The line travels exclusively on California Street, starting near Market Street and Embarcadero Station at Drumm. It travels through the Financial District, Chinatown, and Nob Hill before terminating at Van Ness and California. This line averaged 6,596 daily boardings according to the TEP.