The November 19 opening date is not the real grand opening of the long-awaited Central Subway, but it’s the beginning of weekend-only service that will initially be free, and real everyday service is vaguely scheduled to begin “by January 2023.”
We are now nearly five years behind schedule on the opening of the long-delayed and somewhat controversially named Central Subway system that aims to connect South of Market to Chinatown. And the project got a little visibility when Pete Buttigieg and Nancy Pelosi toured the facilities two weeks ago. But on Tuesday, breathless SF transit devotees finally got news we’ve been waiting for!
Well, kind of.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency today announced the opening schedule for the highly anticipated Central Subway project. Starting November 19th, the Central Subway will open with dedicated shuttle service on weekends between https://t.co/P9yXl1LQp5 pic.twitter.com/jBDWZLE5sN— SFMTA (@SFMTA_Muni) September 20, 2022
The SF Standard was first with the news, and the SFMTA put out a more definitive press release declaring that “Starting November 19th, the Central Subway will open with dedicated shuttle service on weekends between 4th and Brannan Station to Chinatown/Rose Pak Station.”
But about that word “open.” This is more of a soft opening, as the line will operate only on weekends, starting on that November Saturday before Thanksgiving. And it will initially be free! But you can only travel the four new stops: 4th and Brannan Station, Yerba Buena/Moscone, Union Square/Market Street, and the Chinatown Station.
The Central Subway is finally opening...sorta.— Matt Haney (@MattHaneySF) September 20, 2022
November and December it'll be free on weekends between 4th/Brannan and Chinatown/Rose Pak.
Regular daily service on the whole line will start in January. pic.twitter.com/jXFQKLjlMY
SFMTA is still not actually committing to a specific opening date, saying “The full opening of the Central Subway system will debut in January 2023 in time for Lunar New Year celebrations.”
And even that is kind of a hedge. While the date of the Lunar New Year is technically January 22, the big San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade and Street Fair is not until February 4, 2023. Is SFMTA buying themselves a little time by equating that parade with January rather than February?
Either way, it’s a big milestone. “I am thrilled to announce the opening schedule for the Central Subway,” SFMTA director Jeffrey Tumlin said in the release. “We are finally going to be able to experience the vision of thriving, connected neighborhoods—from Chinatown to SoMa to the Bayview and Visitacion Valley—that the people who first conceived of the Central Subway imagined.”
SFMTA is putting a date out there, and even just announcing the November 19 soft opening is pretty risky. A small delay could hold this whole thing back, and when you announce a date and you don’t hit it, you have egg on your face. But this is not unlike the April 1 opening of the Van Ness BRT lanes, when SFMTA picked a date, and moved mountains to make sure those trains (or buses) ran on time.
Image: @SFMTA_Muni via Twitter