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The First Days of the Municipal Railway

Nov. 22, 1909
The Board of Supervisors votes 12 to 6 to call a special election, to be held on Thursday, December 30, for two propositions for bond issues totaling $2,020,000 for the construction of a municipal streetcar line on Geary and Market Streets, from the Ferry Building to the ocean.

Dec. 30, 1909
With a turnout of over 42,000 voters, the propositions for the city's own streetcar service obtain majorities of 72.7%. The number of voters made it the largest turnout for any special or primary election in San Francisco up to that time.

There was widespread support for the municipal streetcar line, and only one of the 18 state assembly districts in the city did not bring in majorities for the propositions.

For many, the vote had a "moral as well as material significance." Approval of the city's own streetcar service was an expression of the public's antipathy towards the United Railroads of San Francisco (URR), and its owners' disregard for the public welfare, corruption of public officials, and callous labor practices.

June 1911
Work begins on the city's Geary St. streetcar line, with day laborers hired by the city.

The day-labor system combined an unemployment program with political patronage, and the work was both slow and costly. After James Rolph Jr. ("Sunny Jim") became mayor the next January, the work was bid out to a private contractor, with much better results.

Sept. 1, 1912
Michael M. O'Shaughnessy becomes the city engineer, and he and Mayor Rolph provide strong leadership during the Municipal Railway's first two decades.

Dec. 28, 1912
The first day of Muni service begins that Saturday with a celebration by a crowd of an estimated 50,000 people at Geary between Kearny St. and Grant Ave. On that first day, Muni's A line operated from Kearny & Market, on Geary and 10th Avenue to Fulton Street at Golden Gate Park, with the B line providing shuttle service on Geary from 10th to 33rd Avenues. The downtown celebration lasted from the 12:30 p.m. start of the ceremony until Mayor James Rolph returned in the first car an hour and a half later.

Although Rolph and the other people at the celebration thought that Muni was the country's first municipally owned streetcar service, it had been preceded by the West Seattle Municipal Railway and the Monroe, Louisiana, Municipal Street Railway. (The Monroe system is still in service as the Monroe Transit System.) Muni, however, was the first to gain nationwide attention as a public alternative to private transit ownership.

Apr. 22, 1913
The "Lower Market Street Agreement" between the city and the URR is ratified by the voters by a 3 to 2 majority. The agreement permitted Muni and URR streetcar lines to use the outside Market St. tracks between Sutter St. and the Ferry Building, and the outside loop on state-owned land at the Ferry Building, while the URR had the use of the inside tracks.

June 3, 1913
Mayor Rolph and URR president Patrick Calhoun take turns at the reins of the last horsecar to operate in the city - a last-day-of-service celebration that was made possible by the Lower Market Street Agreement.

The Geary line began service from the Ferry Building to the beach on June 25, with Mayor Rolph and other dignitaries in the first car. The new municipal streetcar service was not only competing with the URR Market and Sutter Street services, but also with the URR service to Golden Gate Park on 6th and 8th Avenues.

Aug. 26, 1913
Voters approve a $3.5 million bond issue for Muni expansion. The vote was largely in response to the desire to provide service to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition that was to be held in what is now the Marina. (The URR refused to provide new service to the exposition under the existing franchise conditions.)

It had been argued that the city could not provide the service in time, or could not provide enough streetcars handle the large crowds that were expected at the exposition. There would only be a short time to get the new service ready, because the exposition would start in February 1915, 18 months after the vote.

Rolph, speaking at up to ten meetings a day to promote the bond issue, characterized the vote as one of "optimism vs. gloom," and the bond issue was approved by 78.9% of the voters.

Dec. 28, 1914
Completion of the 911 ft. Stockton Street Tunnel, constructed for streetcar and other traffic, with Muni streetcar service starting the next day. There was a major celebration by the Chinatown and North Beach communities on the 28th, with dancing in the streets and in the tunnel until the early hours of the next morning.

The construction contract for the tunnel had been let in April 1913, with financing by a special assessment district of the property owners who would benefit from it.

Feb. 20, 1915
Opening day of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, with an estimated 150,000 people in attendance.

Muni was ready on opening day, and provided service to the exposition area with three temporary streetcar lines and four permanent lines - the D Geary-Van Ness, E Union Street, and F Stockton Street, and the H Potrero line that operated on Potrero and Van Ness Aves.