Sure, the cable cars in San Francisco are loaded with tourists. The ratio of tourists to San Franciscans is easily 10 to 1. Who cares, we say! We loved it, and would recommend riding on a historic San Francisco Cable Car to everyone.
The fact that the locals don’t use the cable cars is most likely due to the limited network. Only three routes are still in operation, rendering the cable cars a tourist experience rather than practical commuter transport.
The first time around we were crammed into the middle of the car, on a bench with two rows of standing passengers impeding any view other than directly out the rainy window. This wasn’t the typical cable car experience we had been picturing. Here’s a tip: wait until dusk when the hoards of tourists trot back to their hotels before you hop on one of the three lines (Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason and California Street) to get a seat on an outer-facing bench so you have your ‘hanging off the cable car’ moment up and down those San Francisco hills.
Being crammed inside the packed cable car during the day did have one advantage. We were able to see how much hands-on work it takes to actually drive these wood and steel trams, as all the gripping and releasing of the cable is done manually. This is such hard manual labor that only 30 percent of those who attempt to become one of these ‘gripmen’ pass the training.
San Francisco’s cable cars are the only ones in the world that are still in operation – and not knowing how much longer they will be maintained, everyone visiting San Francisco should take a ride!
At the end of each line, the cable cars are turned around in an old-fashioned way on a turntable – also interesting to watch!