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COVID Recovery: Sound Of Clanging Cable Car Bells Returns To San Francisco Streets

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- After spending more than a year parked in a Muni yard, the city's iconic cable cars returned to the streets of San Francisco Monday for test runs and free rides as the transit line prepared for a return to full service in September.

The cable car return is just another sign that San Francisco is bouncing back after more than 15 months in the throes of the battle against COVID-19.

"I've been counting the days," said William Kouzi, a North Beach resident who was lucky enough to catch one of the first free rides on the Van Ness-California line. "I was asking them (when they would be returning to public service) and they were so kind. They said -- 'Come on since you live here.' It's been amazing."

The West family from New York was lucky enough to be at the Embarcadero turnaround when the test runs began.

"We came here hoping we could get on the cable cars," they said. "It's a pleasant surprise."

Last month an optimistic Mayor London Breed unveiled the plans for the return of the iconic cable cars.

When the city shut down in March 2020, the cable cars were parked in their service yard as public transportation all but ceased during the months of being shelter-in-place. While Muni has been restarting services over the ensuing months, the cable cars have remained idle.

Muni officials had told Breed that they could not return the cable cars to service until the fall.

"I didn't want to hear it," she said. "But he (Muni head Jeffrey Tumlin) did come up with a creative solution. Even though we were anticipating bringing back the cable cars this fall, we are going do something absolutely extraordinary."

But their arrival on the streets for testing was a little earlier than even Breed anticipated. At June's announcement, Breed said the testing and rides would begin in August.

"What's going to happen at the beginning of August is the cable cars will be available to all riders for the entire month of August for free of charge. So we are bringing them back a little earlier, not as early as I wished, but early enough so that you catch them at the end of the summer, right before you send your kid back to school when they open this fall, and they had better open this fall."

Tumlin said the cable cars will be running close to their normal schedules while the testing is underway. They will return to full-fare, normal scheduling on Sept. 1.

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