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The SFMTA hopes to collect $5.5 million from cable car fares this year, but payouts to passengers injured in accidents on the vehicles could take a chunk out of that revenue.

While Muni pays an $2.4 million annual premium for an insurance policy designed to cover “major incidents” (quantified as claims between $5 million to $25 million), it’s doubtful if that insurance policy will cover two large-but-not-large-enough awards the MTA’s expected to pony up in the coming months.

In one case, a July 2008 derailment at Washington and Powell injured four passengers. According to the Ex, one of the victims, Alma Del Bosque, has been offered $2 million to compensate her for injuries. Two more injured passengers, Marie Romo and Dyllan Lopez, have been offered $50,000 each. Total there: $2.1 million, to come out of the MTA’s coffers.

The Ex also notes that a collision between a cable car and a double-parked car in December 2009 caused passenger John Gainor’s left foot to be “crushed in the accident and later…to be amputated.” The city offered Gainor $2.75 million for his troubles, but he refused to settle and will take the matter to trial in June, 2011.

I’ll freely admit that it’s imperfect thinking to break this down as a simple $5.5 million “profit” to a $4.85 million (or more, depending on Gainor’s jury) loss. After all, accident payouts are perhaps part of the cost of the transit business. Maybe it makes more sense to think of cable cars as attractive but somewhat unreliable loss leaders for the agency?

In any case, the plight of some of the players in these incidents remains unchanged: MTA spokesperson Paul Rose tells the Ex that the operators involved in both accidents remain employed by the SFMTA.

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the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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  • Greg Dewar

    Fare revenue isn’t the only source of income for the transit system, so this equation is a bit flawed. However, it’s been well reported that the accident rate on the cable car system has been very high (Dan Noyes did a piece years ago).

    No matter how carefully the operators run the cars, there are going to be accidents because of the antique nature of the cable system itself, and the fact that you have many passengers onboard who do not pay attention when de-boarding the cars, or who do not ride them properly. Add to that car traffic, sudden stops with a system that’s made of wood and cable, and so on, and inevitably there are going to be accidents no matter what.

    A more relevant question would be why it is Muni is the only transit system charged with maintaining a historical landmark out of its general fund. I mean, without cable cars, SF would lose a major tourist resource AND an icon of the city that’s been around since pre-quake. Why can’t we find outside money to help maintain the system and pay for the overhaul that the cable car system is going to need rather soon (like the one they did in the 80s)?

  • Greg Dewar

    Fare revenue isn’t the only source of income for the transit system, so this equation is a bit flawed. However, it’s been well reported that the accident rate on the cable car system has been very high (Dan Noyes did a piece years ago).

    No matter how carefully the operators run the cars, there are going to be accidents because of the antique nature of the cable system itself, and the fact that you have many passengers onboard who do not pay attention when de-boarding the cars, or who do not ride them properly. Add to that car traffic, sudden stops with a system that’s made of wood and cable, and so on, and inevitably there are going to be accidents no matter what.

    A more relevant question would be why it is Muni is the only transit system charged with maintaining a historical landmark out of its general fund. I mean, without cable cars, SF would lose a major tourist resource AND an icon of the city that’s been around since pre-quake. Why can’t we find outside money to help maintain the system and pay for the overhaul that the cable car system is going to need rather soon (like the one they did in the 80s)?