Saturday 24 October 2015

Retro Transport of San Francisco

I stayed in San Francisco as a guest of and San Francisco Travel, though I paid for my own airfare to the USA.

I've just spent a few days in San Francisco, as part of an epic rail journey up the west coast of the USA from Los Angeles to Seattle (arranged by

It was my first time in the city, and the first thing I noticed is that San Fran is about 100 times more visually appealing than LA (sorry LA, I love you but it has to be said).

The second thing is that SF has a bizarre array of public transport. Its cable cars are of course famous; I spotted this one at Union Square:

They're marvellous fun to ride on, and though the cable car fares are as steep as the city's hills, they can be used as part of the public transport network as they link with other services. 

Having to transfer between a hotel at Fisherman's Wharf and the Handlery Hotel (a classic family-owned hotel popular with Australians), the most logical route was via cable car. 

Straight away on the ride you realise why this technology, whereby the vehicles are hauled by ever-moving cables beneath the streets, was invented in San Francisco. Those hills are steep! The slopes would presumably have defeated both horses and the motor technology of earlier times. 

For a Melburnian, it was also a great opportunity to see a working version of the transport which was once a big part of our city. Melbourne had cable trams from the late 19th century through to the 1940s, progressively replaced by electric trams. 

San Francisco has plenty of conventional public transport such as buses and trains, but it also has a fleet of incredibly cool retro trams which cruise down Market Street and along the waterfront. Here are some I spotted near Pier 39:

You have to admit, these vehicles look like they belong in The Jetsons. 

I was told by a local that they were brought back into service temporarily some years ago, and people liked them so much that they became a permanent feature. Like the cable cars, they connect to other transport; but their fares are just the regular city fares. 

So if you're going to San Francisco, I recommend you take some rides on these fine retro vehicles. 

The way to avoid the steep $7 one-trip fares on the cable cars, by the way, is to purchase the San Francisco City Pass from the Visitor Centre on Market Street (or other outlets).

In addition to providing discounts on various attractions, the pass also provides unlimited access to the public transport network - including the cable cars.

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