Muni operator becomes second female “gripman” in cable car history 

Although San Francisco’s famed cable cars have been around for nearly 140 years, the position of gripman — the conductor in charge of controlling the speed and approach of the vehicles—has been filled by just one woman — until now.

On April 12, Willa Johnson became the second female “gripman” (now an outdated term) on the cable car system, joining Fannie Barnes — who retired from active duty in 2002 — as the only women to maintain the difficult position.

Using a series of levers and handgrips, the gripperson, positioned in the back of the cable car, must exhibit a high level of mental and physical stamina to guide The City’s most cherished transit vehicles.

About 80 percent of applicants fail the training program to become a gripperson. After coming up short on her first attempt, Johnson nailed the month-long course on her second try.

“San Francisco’s transit system and its operators are as diverse as The City,” said Nat Ford, director of the Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates the cable cars. “I am proud to have Ms. Johnson as an addition to our cable car team.”

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Will Reisman

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