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Peek through the passenger queue at Powell and Market Sts to spot cable-car operators leaping out, gripping the chassis of each trolley and slooowly turning the car atop a revolving wooden platform. Cable cars can't go in reverse, so they need to be turned around by hand here at the terminus of the Powell St lines. Riders queue up midmorning to early evening here to secure a seat, with raucous street performers and doomsday preachers on the sidelines as entertainment.
If you're not sure how long the wait will be, count heads and do math: cable cars hold 60 people (29 seated, 31 standing) but depart before they're full to leave room for passengers boarding en route. Cars depart every five to 10 minutes at peak times. Powell-Mason cars are quickest to the Wharf, but Powell-Hyde cars traverse more terrain and hills.