You may have seen some out-of-service F-Market cars rolling on Market Street in recent days, as the SFMTA trains or retrains operators and prepares for the May 15 return of the historic streetcar service between the Wharves and the Castro.
Muni's F-line service, which was suspended in mid-March 2020 and was not replaced with bus service like the Muni Metro lines, is set to return on Saturday, May 15 with new operating hours. While tourism may take some time to return in the city, the historic streetcars will once again provide a connection between Fisherman's Wharf and the Castro for Bay Area tourists and whoever wants to ride on them again — and merchants on Upper Market and the Castro are eager to see them return.
"SFMTA staff worked closely with Castro Merchants, SF Travel, Community Benefit Districts including Mid Market, Yerba Buena, Fisherman’s Wharf, Castro Upper Market, as well as district Supervisors and other key stakeholders in the effort to bring the F Market & Wharves back into service in time for the summer season," the SFMTA says in an announcement.
The SFMTA, still operating on limited resources, told merchants that the line could likely only operate during a single-daily shift for operators for the time being. The choice was made to have that shift be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. from the Wharf, with return trips from the Castro between noon and 8 p.m.
Back in March, Mayor London Breed and the SFMTA jointly announced the return of the streetcars this month, as well as the impending return of the city's iconic cable cars in the fall — when, hopefully, more tourism will be happening.
"We thank Mayor Breed and SFMTA leadership for finding a way to return these symbols of our city to the street during these challenging budget times," said Rick Laubscher, president of local nonprofit Market Street Railway, in a statement to the Examiner. "They’ll send a sign to the Bay Area, California and the world that San Francisco is back in business.”
The F line returns on the same day that subway service returns on the K/T and N lines — which means the reopening of underground Muni stations between West Portal and Embarcadero for the first time since they briefly opened for two days in August. Riders will notice some new way-finding signage in the stations, in addition to allegedly functional wi-fi through the whole underground system.
Back in mid-March, word from the SFMTA was that bus-shuttle service would continue throughout 2021, and that underground Metro service wouldn't be restored until early next year. But it seems that a deal was struck by the mayor and Supervisor Myrna Melgar to restore K-line service sooner. K trains will be temporarily inter-lined with the T-Third Street line until the SFMTA restores service on the L and M lines at a later date.
As has been the case for more than six months, the J-Church is going to remain an above-ground light-rail line that terminates at Church and Market streets. But now, J-Church riders from Bernal Heights can transfer at Market to the subway to get downtown, or to a BART station.
A controversy is brewing about more interruptions to F-Market streetcar service that are still to come, stemming from the Better Market Street construction project that is set to begin later this year. Castro merchants told the Bay Area Reporter in April that another loss of the F line would be "devastating" to the neighborhood, because bus shuttles simply aren't as much of a draw for tourists that might not otherwise come to the neighborhood.
The SFMTA said in its announcement this week that "When Better Market Street begins construction, we plan to continue to run the F Market & Wharves full route as a combination of historic streetcar service and bus shuttle."
"The project team is exploring ways to limit construction impacts and will continue to work closely with businesses to support F Market & Wharves service," the SFMTA added.
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