S.F. Tour Bus Catches Fire, Again

A fire broke out on a City Tour bus this week, bringing back memories of other dramatic tour bus failures.

(Image Courtesy SFFD)

News broke Wednesday that yet another tourist tour bus had caught fire, a story that’s become all-too-familiar in San Francisco. In this case, a double-decker Gray Line City Tour Bus began smoking and then caught fire as it transported tourists along Columbus Avenue in Telegraph Hill. Two were taken to the hospital for minor injuries, but miraculously, no one else was hurt.

It’s far from the first dangerous incident to occur on S.F.’s tour buses, and all daydreams this reporter had of riding on the second level on a rare sunny San Francisco day while casually sipping on a flask have, well, gone up in smoke. Here are just a few of the incidents that have gone down in the past few years.

The Haight Street bus fire. (Courtesy Image)

Haight Street Fire

Wednesday’s blaze was hardly the first time a tour bus caught fire in San Francisco. On May 3, 2015 tourists got quite an eyeful as they strolled through the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. A Big Bus double-decker burst into enormous flames on Haight Street, shutting down traffic in the neighborhood and sending plumes of smoke into the air. Luckily, no one was injured.

The Union Square bus crash scene. (Photo: Mike Koozmin)

Union Square Scaffolding Crash

This was by far the worst. On Nov. 13, 2015, a City Sightseeing bus cruising past Union Square at a definitely-illegal 40mph crashed into scaffolding, injuring 19 passengers. The driver alleged that the brakes failed, spurring a four-month-long intensive investigation into City Sightseeing buses, which later determined that nope — the driver, Kenneth Malvar, was at fault. 

Malvar’s lawyer disagreed. “The easiest way to come to a conclusion when you can’t find the mechanical cause is simply to blame the driver,” Cartwright said, adding that his client heard a pop before the crash, believing the accelerator pedal became stuck. 

Embarcadero Collision

A little more than a month after the Union Square crash, another one took place, this time on Embarcadero. The double-decker Big Bus San Francisco vehicle and a black Ford SUV collided on Embarcadero near Broadway. Nine people were injured, including two children.

Pedestrian Killed

One month after that, in January 2016, a senior citizen in his 70s was hit and killed by the driver of a Hop-On, Hop-Off tour bus. 

Electrical Fire

A Big Bus tour bus fell prey to overhead wires in the Richmond District in 2013, injuring five. “The wire hit the bus’ front windshield, popped up over the windshield, came back down and struck some people at the back of the bus,” said police Officer Tracy Turner, a department spokeswoman. 

The most seriously injured, a 67-year-old woman, was taken to the hospital with injuries to her face and head. 

Luckily, AB 1677, a bill drafted by Assemblyman David Chiu and state Senator Jerry Hill to increase tour bus safety standards and inspections, passed in late 2016. But as this week’s fire showed, it’s still not wildly in common for tour buses to randomly burst into flames. If you do take a cruise around the city from the double-decker, we suggest you bring a fire extinguisher — along with your flask.


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