The city of San Francisco is sending an “SF Counts 2010 Census Cable Car” to various neighborhoods this afternoon in order to encourage census participation.

As of today, San Francisco’s participation rate in the 2010 Census is below both the national and the state average, according to the 2010 Census Web site. The city is also trailing behind all of its surrounding Bay Area counties.

The city’s census form return rate is 65 percent, compared to 71 percent in Marin and San Mateo counties. Alameda County is at 68 percent; Contra Costa County is at 70 percent; and Santa Clara County is at 72 percent.

The special cable car, organized by the city’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, was scheduled to start its route in Chinatown at 12:45 p.m. It was slated to travel through the Tenderloin, SOMA, Mission, Western Addition, Excelsior, Visitation Valley, and Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods.

The official public due date for the census forms was April 16, but Sonny Le, regional spokesman for the U.S. Census Bureau, said that people can still send in their forms.

However, the time it takes for the forms to arrive at the bureau means it may be too late for residents to avoid a knock at the door. Door-knocking begins May 3.

Although federal law allows for a $100 to $5,000 fine for anyone who “refuses or willfully neglects” to fill out the forms, Le said the last time such fines were imposed was sometime in the 19th century.

“It doesn’t help the Census if we actually penalize people,” he said.

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