America trip (2): San Francisco

San Francisco has every type of public transport. There are trams, an underground system – BART – heritage cable cars, and buses. Yet still the pounding of cars on city streets dominates with extraordinarily busy highways such as 19th Avenue, teeming with cars 24/7.

The trams are pretty good. There are a couple of underground tram stops in the middle of the city where trams on different routes converge and it almost seems like a decent system. But even so, according to people I talked to, by and large it is the poor and the young who use the system and that was indeed backed up by my own view when I travelled on the trams. They are, too, showing their age and desperate need a clean up and indeed, some additional stock as the interval between services was rather long.

It is the constant need for public transit to justify itself financially which dogs all the American public transport systems. While at times there is widespread public support for increased services, the politicians always dole out the money begrudgingly, cutting corners and reducing quality. It is a vicious spiral that seems impossible to get out of. Transit must, as it does in New York, be able to attract the middle classes for it to get widely accepted in places like San Francisco. But that requires quality investment, and that is at the root of the problem.

The situation is not helped in SF by the multiplicity of providers – Caltrain,Bart, Muni etc – who don’t seem to coordinate their activity or their investment. There is some investment and improvement on the way, but nothing that will cut the permanent stream of traffic on 19th.

  • Michael D. Willis

    Great interview Christian! The Leonard Lopgate Show WNYC New York Public Radio reaches millions of listeners across the USA and Canada.
    How about a CBC TV Toronto interview on “The Hour” with George Stephanopolis.
    Back to San Francisco, Silicon Valley Tech Tycoons are strongly behind Railway Technology and were key players in the yes vote for California High Speed Rail.
    Sir Richard Branson, with his ‘Star Power’, could play a major media role with the Hollywood crowd to promote rail across the USA and Canada..

  • David Sterratt

    Maybe you were overwhlemed with the choice, but there are also trolleybuses in San Francisco!

    However, I was pleased to see that you have mentioned trolleybuses in your “Manifesto to be Mayor”:

    I’ve just been on a trip to Salzburg, where there is a very extensive trolleybus system. The streets, a number of which are narrow “canyons”, were noticeably clearer of fumes than similar streets in Edinburgh, where I live, and the trolleybuses are much quieter too. With three doors for loading and no filing past the driver, unloading and loading was very quick. I’d have thought that trolleybuses would be a very good option for many of London’s streets.

  • Willem Grund

    San Francisco , fascinating city; Trams, buses , cabelcar , ferryboats, BART – when after 9 pm from Fisherman’s Wharf you have to catch a bicycle taxi to the first BART station – 15 dollar Sir , yes I’m from Europe – a cab to Oakland across the Bay Bridge is 50 dollar.

    The BART accelerates like a dog (like in Washington DC) but is extremely noisy on the rail , I see passengers with earprotection ….