Muni crowns fresh cable car bell-ringing champ



A loud, rhythmic jangle from one of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars echoed throughout Union Square Thursday afternoon as cable car conductors and gripmen competed to see who would be the best bell-ringer at this year’s 53rd Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest.

The competition included the first female finalist, Cassandra Griffin, who has been with the Municipal Transportation Agency for 18 years, 15 with the cable car division. She said started out by driving the 38-Geary bus during her first three years, but her supervisor told her that she had the personality to pilot The City’s famous cable cars.

Though this year she did not take home any of the top three prizes, she said she was glad that she participated:

“It’s been long enough. No women have ever did it before so it’s been long enough. I think in 2016 it was time.”

Griffin told SFBay that she was nervous and overwhelmed in the beginning. Contestants went through a preliminary round before making the final cut. She said one of her riders encouraged her to compete:

“I looked at one of my passengers and she kind of electrocuted me to making it happen.”

Griffin said that she will be back next year.

Six others competed with Griffin, including the six-time and defending champion Bryon Cobb, who was dethroned, placing second. The other finalists included Joseph Sue, Ignacio Sandoval and Singh Rai.

Leonard Oats, who has been a gripman for 16 years, defeated Cobb and the other finalists to take first place. Oats, who has previously won the contest three other times, said one of the melodies he used for his performance included Michael Jackson’s Bad song.

Oats said he last won in four years ago and it felt “great” to once again win:

“It’s been a while since I won.”

Trini Whittaker, who has also been with the cable car division for 16 years, placed third.

Amateurs also got to compete in their own contest. Freska from 96.5 KOIT-FM placed first, Brandon Mudd — dressed up as Elvis — represented Comcast Spotlight placed second, and St. John from Movin’ 99.7 placed third.

The top three winners in each contest won cash prizes and a trophy. Amateur competitors donated their cash prizes to various charities.

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said in a statement that he was proud of Griffin for competing in this year’s contest:

“As she stepped into her role as the first woman to compete as a finalist, she has made herself a model for others who will follow in her footsteps. We look forward to what she has in store for us in future competitions.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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