When a government entity puts forth a project that will cost billions in taxpayer money, the reasoning and necessity for the undertaking better be airtight.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which has begun preliminary work on its $1.58 billion Central Subway, has emphatically stated the benefits of the project, which include job creation, economic development and increased connectivity for residents in The City’s northern neighborhoods.
However, one of the SFMTA’s major selling points for the Central Subway — that the new system will be a major time-saver for passengers — is being questioned by a coalition of transit advocates who say bus service on Stockton Street is actually a faster alternative to the proposed underground train.
According to the Planning Department’s environmental impact report for the project, the underground train would save an average of 10.7 minutes a trip compared to the bus system.
However, members of Save Muni have said the report only examines transit times. When other time elements are factored in — such as walking to the station, waiting for trains to arrive and escalator rides — traveling on the Central Subway wouldn’t be quicker.
Using time-projecting models, Save Muni calculated that an average trip from Pacific Avenue and Stockton Street to the Fourth Street Caltrain station currently takes 15.3 minutes on a bus. A similar trip on the Central Subway would take 24.7 minutes, according to calculations, which take into account wait times, the distance to bus and subway stops and actual travel time.
“They’ve said repeatedly that the subway will be faster,” said Gerald Cauthen, a member of Save Muni. “We’ve found that not to be true.”
John Funghi, the SFMTA’s program manager for the Central Subway project, called Save Muni’s analysis flawed.
“They don’t properly take into account the frequency between trains or the distance between transfers,” Funghi said. “They basically pick and choose the worst-case scenarios of each segment to make a biased projection.”
Funghi said the Stockton Street corridor is already at capacity, and the only way to improve transit service is to move underground.
Leaders in Chinatown’s community agree with him.
“There is absolutely no question that the Central Subway will significantly improve speed,” said Gordon Chin, executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center. “The 30-Stockton bus is infamous for its slowness and congestion. We need to improve the transportation service through Stockton Street corridor and there is only so much you can do at the surface level.”
Bus travel times from Stockton Street and Pacific Avenue to the Fourth Street Caltrain station:
Walk to stop: 1.2 minutes
Wait for bus: 2.3 minutes
Transit time: 10.0 minutes
Walk from stop: 1.8 minutes
Total: 15.3 minutes
Walk to stop: 10.4 minutes
Wait for train: 5.8 minutes
Transit time: 6.3 minutes
Walk from stop: 2.2 minutes
Total: 24.7 minutes
Source: Save Muni
$1.58 billion: Project cost
1.7 miles: Length
2018: Projected service start date
76,000: Projected annual ridership