Serious cable car accident spurs call for drivers to be more careful

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- The view from onboard can't be beat, but San Francisco cable car operators say they're increasingly worried about whether motorists are watching out for them.

"We know how tough it is out there," Transit Workers Union Local 250A President Eric Williams told KTVU. "We're having to deal with a lot. And we see it firsthand as operators."

On Monday morning, Powell-Mason line operator Santiago Montoya was struck and critically injured by an SUV as he exited his car to offload passengers and turn a switch in the track. He suffered a broken leg, broken ribs and internal injuries, but is expected to recover.

"We're obviously heartbroken by what happened," said San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency Director of Transit John Haley. "The operator's got an outstanding record. he's been here eighteen and a half years."

The incident happened at northbound Powell and Washington streets, an intersection frequently crowded with turning cable cars, autos and pedestrians. Signs say cars are not supposed to pass stopped cable cars, though operators say that law is often ignored.

"You may have visiting people coming to the city and they may not know that law. But for the locals, they should know that law," said Williams. "At that particular location, we had an operator hit about a year and a half ago, as well."

Williams said he wants to see more warning signs along the cable car routes and more police enforcing traffic laws. With an increase in cars and bicycles sharing San Francisco streets, transit officials say the safety of cable car and light rail vehicle operators is a growing concern.

"One of the other things we'll certainly do is have the traffic engineering folks look at the intersection, look at the stop signs, see if there's a way to better protect it," said Haley. "What we've done... since the incident yesterday... is to remind the crews to pay attention when they're in the street. To make sure they have their vests on, to make sure that they look both ways, they face traffic, they keep their eyes open."

The Municipal Transit Agency Monday issued a reminder to crews about wearing their safety vests and making sure they're seen by traffic.