GG Bridge Toll Hikes Approved 15-2, Supes Campos and Breed Opposed

Photo: emptyseas/Flickr

When the plan for much-needed toll hikes on the Golden Gate Bridge was approved Friday, the only opponents on the GG Bridge Highway and Transportation District Board of Directors were Supervisors David Campos and London Breed.

Supervisors David Campos and London Breed, the only members of the bridge board to vote against toll hikes. Photos: Board of Supervisors

All other 15 members who voted, including Marin County reps, apparently understood the need to fund rising infrastructure costs for the bridge by increasing tolls for the drivers who use it. In recent years, the board tolls have not risen as quickly as fares for Golden Gate Transit, which has also seen service cuts — a pattern that unfairly burdens bus riders and induces more car traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge district has also cut costs by eliminating toll takers and switching to all-electronic tolling, getting district employees to pay for a larger share of their benefits, and bringing in new revenue by charging for parking at the Larkspur Landing ferry terminal.

But that apparently wasn’t enough for Campos and Breed, who said they wouldn’t approve toll hikes until they were sure every possible cost-cutting measure had been taken, according to the SF Chronicle. “We have to demonstrate that we have done everything we can before we vote to increase tolls,” Campos said. “It may be that toll increases are essential and necessary, but I don’t know that we’ve demonstrated that.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who also sits on the bridge board, pointed out that the hikes would only “go up at about the rate of inflation.”

“The cost of running the bridge and the transit system keeps going up,” Wiener said, according to the Chron. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable.”

In fact, Wiener called for higher hikes than the ones approved. According to the Chronicle, he opposed retaining the $1 discount for FasTrak users, who account for 85 percent of drivers on the bridge:

With the Bay Area’s growing population, the bridge district needs to pay more attention to the transit side of its business, he said, “since the last thing we need are more cars on (Highway) 101 clogging the bridge, which would not be to the benefit of driver or to the benefit of the region.”

Raising more money for future transit service makes sense, Wiener said.

There’s an argument to be made for ending the discount for electronic toll payments, he added, “given the overwhelming majority already using FasTrak.”

As we reported in 2012, tolls for car commuters have only increased one time since 2002. A 2008 hike raised the cash toll 20 percent and the discount toll 25 percent. By comparison, GG Transit fares have increased 5 percent or more every year since 2001. Compounding a 5 percent annual transit fare hike (an underestimate) over ten years yields an increase of about 65 percent.

Will Campos and Breed play hardball with approving fare hikes and service cuts, as they have with toll hikes?

It’s disappointing to see opposition — the only opposition, at that — to badly-needed toll hikes come from representatives of San Francisco, which bears the costs of Marin car traffic in the form of added congestion, wear-and-tear on infrastructure, air pollution, and more dangerous streets. (It’s worth noting that the only public opposition reported by the Chronicle was from a handful of Marin County residents, not San Franciscans.)

If anything, SF’s leadership should be pushing for a congestion pricing-based toll structure — in other words, charge more during rush hour, as The Greater Marin explained last month:

Implementing a demand-based toll would go much further to promote transit usage than marketing studies and start to reduce some of the intractable traffic problems in Marin.

As well, the toll would ease Marin’s traffic-caused CO2 emissions, both by reducing stop-and-go traffic, which is high-emitting, but also raising money to modernize the GGT fleet with more fuel efficient buses.

Ideally, GGBHTD would set out for itself an aim of managing the traffic along the 101 corridor and set its tolls and fares accordingly. Long term, it should start to charge tolls in both directions, in coordination with MTC (which manages the other bridges) with the express aim of reducing traffic congestion in and out of San Francisco. Though MTC has shown an inability to invest in transit wisely, the mere adjustment to tolling would surely boost transit ridership as congestion declines.

Under the plan approved by the bridge district, the $6 toll will rise to $7 on April 7 on its way to $8 by 2018. A 25-cent increase will go in place on July 1, 2015, with a similar boost each year until 2018, according to the Chronicle. The bridge board increased tolls beyond its original proposal, which didn’t include an increase in 2015. By adding a 25-cent hike in 2015, projected revenue was increased from $123 million to $138 million.

  • timsmith

    Someone’s got to stand up for all those low-income Marin residents who’ve been priced out of the city and need to drive, right?

  • voltairesmistress

    The problem with bridge tolls in the Bay Area, and Marin in particular, is that a small subset of drivers subsidizes transit. All drivers throughout Marin should be subsidizing transit, but most drive all over the county without crossing the bridge that often. Hence, most Marin drivers enjoy highly subsidized roads and the benefits of a transit system without paying their fair share towards them. Marin Transit goes many places throughout the county; it serves many people or their employers, not just Golden Gate Bridge commuters (and their employers).

    Yes, tolls can go up at the rate of fare increases on bus and ferry, but these toll increases unfairly burden bridge users rather than all road users in Marin (and Sonoma to some extent).

  • voltairesmistress

    Making snide comments about Marin residents’ perceived wealth in no way addresses the issue.

  • Mario Tanev

    Most of our local politicians are just lazy concern trolls with no intellectual acuity, no respect for facts, and no value system. Scott Wiener takes time to evaluate issues and give a very detailed and reasoned out response, according to his well explained value system.

    The others just like to appear something or other in front of one or other constituency. Not even comprehending the impact of inflation and seeking to use funds more effectively is more of a right-wing philosophy, but these politicians are just opportunists, so it doesn’t matter to them. I believe in using funds more effectively too, but starving your transit system and closing gridlock has been shown to achieve the opposite – a death spiral.

  • timsmith

    Who’s perceiving? Marin incomes really are high: it’s the 17th-wealthiest county in the nation by median household income, and nearly tied for second-highest in California. At $91,000, their median household income is about $15,000 higher than SF.

    The point being that Campos has complicit in the argument that we must make it cheap to drive into the city because those who are priced out of SF into auto-dependent suburbs need to visit sometimes (for church, work, or socializing), and the equitable thing to do is accommodate them. This particular scenario, where equity-for-drivers-obsessed Campos stands up for a much wealthier county’s residents, just leaves that argument looking silly.

  • timsmith

    *has been complicity

  • david vartanoff

    If those toll payers didn’t underwrite the transit services, the bridge would be total gridlock in rush hour. You pay to be able to drive in your car.

  • voltairesmistress

    I don’t disagree at all with you that bridge users benefit a great deal from the existence of the buses + ferries. But my argument is different — that bridge tolling on the Golden Gate and other Bay Area bridges taxes a percentage of drivers (about 10%) heavily while leaving the rest (90%) untouched. (Figures from Matier and Ross). Bridges, natural bottlenecks, have proven easier to use as taxation points than the rest of the highway system in the Bay Area or California more generally.

    I am merely suggesting that we urge politicians and bridge boards to consider highway tolling throughout the region. Mile by mile, time of day charges would spread the charge to all, particularly those who commute by car frequently but don’t cross a bridge, instead of hitting the 10% or so commuters who do cross a bridge.

  • voltairesmistress

    Your argument is about average or median income, not about the many, many people in any place who live below that comfortable economic level. If you knew a lot of people in Marin, it would soon become apparent that some are poor and many are living on modest incomes. Bridge tolls, transit fares, and the like really do matter to them. To write off a whole county’s population as rich and therefore unworthy of consideration about costs of services is simply a prejudice that many people tolerate because they either envy or despise a class of people. Lastly and in case you just like hating on Marinites, a great many people commute into Marin to work, then pay transit fares or bridge fares. The Golden Gate Bridge toll and GG Transit fares have to be viewed as costs affecting a region of people, not just Marin County’s residents.

  • murphstahoe

    I ride the buses into San Francisco from Sonoma County. I see the cars on US-101 headed to the bridge. I get to see who is driving those cars from my perch high up in a GGT bus.

    The cars are BMWs.

    The cars in the parking lot of the bus depot, not so much.

    The riders on the 101/70/71/80 – those are REALLY the low income people in Marin and Sonoma County. The “Campos Constituency” as it were. And he just tried to jack them with a bigger fare hike.

  • murphstahoe

    The bridge is the bottleneck that needs the relief from the transit system. The fares subsidize the GGT buses – all of which cross the bridge, save the 40/42 which cross the San Rafael bridge. The money is going directly towards the problem being caused by those specific drivers.

  • Andy Chow

    Marin Transit (a separate political entity) has its own funding sources (including 1/4 cent TDA sales tax) and pays GGT as a contractor to run intra-county service. That why GGT runs a lot of intra Marin service even though it is a bridge district and shouldn’t have responsibility beyond the bridge.

    GGT only provides inter-county service in Sonoma County because other entities like Sonoma County Transit has that responsibility for intra-county service.

  • timsmith

    Spot on. It’s not about whether there are low-income people in Marin — there are low-income people everywhere. But to focus on the cost of driving instead of the cost and quality of transit is a serious screw up of priorities. I have nothing at all against Marin; my comment is a zing it Campos, who caters to sometimes mythical low-income drivers more than he does to the people he should truly be serving.

  • murphstahoe

    You do know that not raising the tolls will almost certainly mean transit hikes…

  • laughtiger

    “It’s disappointing to see opposition — the only opposition, at that — to
    badly-needed toll hikes come from representatives of San Francisco”

    It’s disappointing to see this sort of regressive taxation — and regressive politics — pushed by streetsblog, which claims at the same time to be environmental and progressive.

  • Ian Turner

    Oh yes, won’t anyone speak out for the poor impoverished people commuting by car from Marin?

  • Mario Tanev

    Progressive transportation policy has come to mean support for transit and livable/walkable/bike-able/dense communities. Such communities allow for a more equitable distribution of resources. While there are low income people in cars and high income people on buses, the truly destitute cannot afford a car, and even if they had one it would be an effective regressive tax on them. So while some low income people are hurt by driver tolls, overall supporting transit helps more people in need, with wealthier folks paying a higher portion of the bill. So I wouldn’t call that regressive, though income testing could help further.

    Negative changes to the environment would also disproportionately hurt disadvantaged people, and nudging people to use transit (and charge them for using our resources and polluting our air disproportionately), is the right thing to do.

  • voltairesmistress

    Golden Gate Bridge fares subsidize all of Golden Gate Transit, including county-only buses that cross no bridge and do not even get on 101. Check out Routes 22 or 66 for example. Further, you are not dealing with the main thrust of my argument — that bridge tolls are the only place that private auto drivers pay, instead of along all heavily used highways, and that this system causes a subset of auto commuters to pay heavily towards county transit, instead of all drivers paying for county-wide transit.

  • murphstahoe

    Route 66 at least is Marin County Transit and is not funded by GGT from my understanding.

    The whole reason GGBD subsidizes the transit they do is to reduce usage of the bridge. Even if we spot you route 22, there is a strong – nearly 100% – correlation between who pays for the bus (toll payers and riders) and who benefits from the bus (toll payers and riders)

  • The stretch of 101 between Novato and Petaluma, as well as the stretch between Novato and Marinwood, are also bottlenecks. If there’s going to be tolling at all bottlenecks, GGBHTD should add a toll to 101 just south of Novato.

  • voltairesmistress

    I think you see BMWs, but I drive that same route once a week and see no such disproportionate numbers.
    However, to note rich car drivers vs poor GGT riders, then link that questionable assertion to high bridge fares as both a fair and sufficient as a tax source for county-wide transit, is incorrect. This bridge fare only financing is better than no financing, but it continues to leave the majority of Marin residents almost untaxed for the transit system they enjoy. Even if they simply enjoy it by having other people take it to jobs that serve non-riders, or enjoy less congested roads to drive on themselves. Lastly, I think we would agree that public transit availability is a civil right, and all counties should tax their residents equitably to provide it. Bridge tolling taxes 10% of drivers, not all drivers, and not all residents. Tolls are a a flat, regressive tax.

  • murphstahoe

    I’m all for jacking up the VLF for Marin County. Given that won’t happen any time soon, I think the Board has made a responsible decision.

    And remember, this is not how Marin County Transit is funded.

  • jdock

    Generally, fare hikes hurt middle-to-low income people in urban/near-urban areas more than toll hikes simply because it’s not the upper incomes who are on the busses.

  • David D.

    Route 22 is a Marin Transit route that Golden Gate Transit operates as a contractor. MT pays for the service; it is not funded through bridge tolls. Route 66 isn’t even operated by GGT; it is operated by a private contractor (MV) on behalf of MT. I know that it is difficult to separate GGT and MT sometimes, but an easy rule of thumb is this: If it crosses a bridge, it is a GGT route. If it stays entirely within Marin County, it is an MT route.

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