San Francisco Cable Cars Cost the City Millions Each Year in Legal Expenses
San Francisco’s cable cars are a big part of the city’s identity, but few people know that these local icons cost the city millions each year in settlements, court awards and legal fees. Each year, a small percentage of cable car riders are injured in accidents that result in broken bones, severed feet and other injuries. Around one person each month is injured while riding San Francisco cable cars, and city officials have reported 126 accidents over the last ten years that injured 151 people. A few months ago, five riders and two workers were injured when the cable car they were riding lurched to an unexpected stop after one of the wheels struck a small bolt in the track.
According to city officials, San Francisco pays an average of $12 million each year to settle legal claims against its mass transportation system, which includes the cable car system. Even though the cable cars run on only eight miles of track and are responsible for a disproportionately large part of the city’s legal expenses, removing them or changing them to make them safer is not an option, according to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
"The iconic cable cars of San Francisco are a National Historic Landmark and we work every day to make them safer," Lee said. "While accidents and injuries are down from just a few years ago, we are always working to improve the system as a whole."
The city has been settling lawsuits from cable car accidents since they made their debut in 1893. Proposed safety changes spring up nearly every time there is an accident, but city officials refuse to alter the world’s only manually operated cable-car system serving the public.
"The 19th century technology of the cable cars does pose some challenges," said Paul Rose, a spokesman for the city agency that oversees San Francisco mass transit. "While one accident is too many and we’re always working to improve safety, these incidents are rare."
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