Central Subway costs vary between San Francisco, federal agencies

Evan DuCharme/Special to The S.F. ExaminerWorkers tape off Stockton Street during work on the Central Subway

Evan DuCharme/Special to The S.F. ExaminerWorkers tape off Stockton Street during work on the Central Subway

In its relentless defense of the $1.6 billion Central Subway project, Muni has consistently preached to the local public that the undertaking will be a heavily used line that only has a minimal effect on the agency’s operating budget.

The federal government reports a much different story.

In a news conference earlier this month, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, said the Central Subway project will cost $1.7 million to operate annually. However, the Federal Transit Administration, which is monitoring the project, reported in its 2012 memo to Congress that the project would actually cost $15.2 million annually.

Ridership projections also vary wildly between the two agencies. The SFMTA has said the Central Subway will carry 65,000 daily passengers. However, in its last report, the FTA said the project will actually have 35,100 daily riders, and only 4,800 of those will be new passengers on the system.

Paul Rose, spokesman for the SFMTA, said the two agencies use a different formula for calculating the cost and ridership of the project.

He said the SFMTA, in conjunction with its sister agency, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, is forecasting the project in 2010 dollars. The $1.7 million is how much the agency anticipates it will spend in 2019, the first year of the operation. The FTA makes its funding projections for 2030, which accounts for the difference, Rose said.

John Funghi, who oversees the Central Subway project for the SFMTA, said the FTA arbitrarily uses the 2030 projections when it makes its annual reports to Congress.

“We presented the project in a way that would represent the current situation; they use the 2030 projections that are from the same template we use to project our costs,” Funghi said. “They just use a different year when they present it to Congress.”

For ridership, the SFMTA takes into account passengers from its T-Third Street line — what the SFMTA considers Phase 1 of the Central Subway plan, Rose said. The FTA only takes into consideration the actual Central Subway segment of the project, which will extend Muni Metro service into Chinatown.

Jerry Cauthen, a member of Save Muni, a group actively opposed to the Central Subway, said the projection differences between the local and federal authorities is more than simple differences in calculations.

“I don’t know if it’s incredible sloppiness or direct lying,” said Cauthen. “But whatever the reason, San Francisco residents are not getting the truth from the MTA on this project.”

In 2007, the SFMTA completed an environmental report of the plan that said the Central Subway would save $24 million annually in operating costs. That plan was soon revised to $3 million, and now the agency says the subway
will cost $1.7 million out of its operating budget.

Controversy surrounding the project has intensified as more San Francisco mayoral candidates begin to direct their attention to the plan, and while the SFMTA gets ready to hear back on its $942 million grant application from the federal government. Today, the agency will formally submit its grant, which has already gained preliminarily approval from the FTA, but still needs final authorization. A bill introduced earlier this month in the  Republican-led Congress aims to strip federal funding for the Central Subway.


Tracking differences

Two agencies project different costs for the Central Subway.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency     
Daily ridership: 65,000    
Annual operating cost: $1.7 million   

Federal Transit Administration
Daily ridership: 35,100
Annual operating cost: $15.2 million

Sources: SFMTA, FTA

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