SFCTA to Test Variable Road Pricing on Treasure Island

The development of Treasure Island is poised to come with congestion pricing and new transit options to move people without cars. Image: SFCTA
The development of Treasure Island will be accompanied by variable road tolls and new transit options. Image: SFCTA

Treasure Island will serve as San Francisco’s proving grounds for road pricing that adjusts in response to traffic conditions, as the city looks to minimize Bay Bridge car congestion generated by residents expected to move to the development site.

When the first housing units on the artificial mid-bay island, formerly owned by the Navy, are occupied in 2019, the SF County Transportation Authority plans to implement a fee to use the Bay Bridge ramps to drive on and off the island. The fee would rise and fall in response to car congestion as well as transit service, which would be dramatically increased with new Muni and AC Transit lines, as well as a new ferry line to SF that would launch in 2021.

As the “car-light” development adds 8,000 housing units by 2030, SFCTA planner Rachel Hiatt said the agency’s goal is for at least 50 percent of trips on and off the city-owned island to be taken by surface transit or ferry.

The proposed tolls would apply from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. From 2019 until 2021, the toll would be $1 during off-peak hours, and $3 during peak hours (which have yet to be determined). Those rates would increase to $3 and $5 after 2021, when ferry service will be introduced.

Livable City Director Tom Radulovich said that the tolls will need to be high enough to keep traffic moving on the Bay Bridge, which doesn’t have bus-only lanes. The SFCTA is also banking on the toll revenue to fund most of the new transit service and incentive programs to encourage island residents to get around without driving.

“It’s imperative that we protect the transbay transit service,” said Radulovich, “because we’re going to need to rely more and more on it as San Francisco’s developing and not investing in more BART capacity.”

In a presentation [PDF] last week, Hiatt told an SFCTA committee comprised of city supervisors that the agency recommends providing free transit passes for many residents, a free shuttle, and abundant car-share that’s provided at a discount for low-income households. The agency also plans to limit and charge for all parking spaces, and envisions Bay Area Bike Share on the island.

Image: SFCTA
Image: SFCTA

The use of variable tolls could also generate momentum for other types of dynamic road pricing, like a London-style congestion charge to unclog the most traffic-choked parts of the city. Congestion pricing has proven a successful tool in London and Stockholm to reduce traffic, speed buses, and open up street space to be repurposed for biking and walking. It’s a key part of a “mobility management” strategy, as the SFCTA calls it.

But in 2010, a mere study of congestion pricing in downtown SF and Peninsula highways encountered a fierce backlash. Five years later, the SFCTA sees Treasure Island as an opportunity to prove the concept.

“This is in many ways a laboratory,” said Supervisor Jane Kim, whose District 6 includes Treasure Island.

Kim said she supported the program overall, but said driving on and off the island during off-peak evening and weekend hours should be free. Tolling from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, she said, is “crazy” and “really, really problematic.”

But as Radulovich pointed out, Bay Bridge tolls and transit fares apply during those hours.

“There’s always that odd [sentiment] that driving and parking should be free during certain hours to give folks a break,” he said. “We don’t apply that same logic to transit riders.”

Limiting toll hours would also cut into planned revenue, noted Supervisor Scott Wiener, unless the tolls are raised during the remaining hours.  “Where would that money come from?” he said.

In recent years, the Bay Area Toll Authority has increased Bay Bridge tolls during peak hours, but the price differential ($6 during the peak, $4 off-peak) hasn’t created enough of an incentive to achieve substantial congestion reduction.

Under the SFCTA’s proposed program, drivers entering Treasure Island via the East Bay would receive a toll credit for a portion of what they already paid to get on the Bay Bridge.

To reduce costs for low-income residents, Hiatt said the SFCTA advises against toll discounts, and instead recommends discounts for car-share, transit fares, and a rewards program that accrues toll credits for residents of subsidized housing when they take transit trips. Encouraging low-income residents to “shed cars” is the most effective way to reduce their transportation costs, she said.

Of the roughly 2,000 residents who currently live on Treasure Island, about 60 percent “have access to a vehicle,” and about 60 percent take transit to get to work off the island, according to the SFCTA.

Two island residents criticized the plan at the committee hearing last week. While one woman said she was pleased that the SFCTA dropped the original plans to toll only island residents, one man called the entire concept a “dystopian, authoritarian, punitive approach” that “routinely tramples on constitutional rights.”

The island development would have a cap of 8,000 parking spaces, all “managed by price” and unbundled from housing rents, said Hiatt.

But “the real win,” said Radulovich, “would’ve been a car-free development.”

  • the problem is not the people, it’s how the city plans to glean the money. Giving a pass to businesses, luxury hotels, and their customers while placing the burden on the backs of the working poor and middle class is definitely NOT the solution.

  • Charge the businesses, luxury hotels, their customers & tourists.

  • jd_x

    I don’t think that is the sort of behavior we should be encouraging. Why should driving for entertainment get an exclusion when that act creates the same problems as those driving for utilitarian reasons? If we already have issues with people driving for utilitarian reasons, we *definitely* have issues with people driving recreationally.

  • murphstahoe

    Really? I would have thought a ferry to SF from Treasure Island at rush hour would be faster than driving….

    Oh – I see, you are comparing the current transit to driving, not the transit proposed to be coupled with the congestion pricing. Jeez, that’s not even clever.

  • caryl

    It seems all of those groups will be included in the congestion charge, but that won’t address the 8000 new housing units being added over the next 15 years. If all those new residents drive to work every day, that’s a lot of additional traffic on the bridge, so we need to discourage that as much as possible. I would love to see improved transit options so that driving doesn’t always seem like the most convenient option. I like @NoeValleyJim:disqus’s idea of a sliding scale fee for those people who truly need to drive and can’t afford the fee, but my guess is that for a lot of people (including many who are lower income), they drive mainly because the transit options are so abysmal, not because driving is critical to their survival. Making transit options more attractive and driving less so seems like a good way to go, especially if a sliding scale fee is available to the very small number of people who absolutely must drive for some reason.

  • Thoughtful reply, thanks. However, your premise that businesses and their customers will pay the congestion charge is wrong. As a matter of fact, ask Rachel Hiatt at SFCTA how much businesses and tourists will pay and she will direct you to Bob Beck at TIDA. Why wouldn’t she know the answer? I believe she does but doesn’t want to say it aloud. Because the response is NOTHING.

  • FYI, the contamination clean up has been ongoing for 15+yrs on TI. Every year they find something new. This year, Congress gave them another $10M for clean up.

    It’s highly likely they will never build those 8K units. Lennnar has a history of bankrupting the LLC (TICD) after building & selling the luxury units and bolts on the affordable housing portion of the project.

    The current infrastructure is decaying and people are living with black mold, raw sewage backups, and exposure to lead and asbestos. There is no way for residents to deal with JSCO’s abuses because TIDA won’t intervene and there are no grievance policies in place to elevate the problems to the city. Supervisor Jane Kim doesn’t care and routes all resident complaints back to JSCO.

  • caryl

    I don’t understand how businesses and their customers would be exempt from the congestion charge. Wouldn’t the charge apply to anyone who uses the ramps?

  • NoeValleyJim

    “SF Paratransit Selected as Paratransit System of the Year

    The SFMTA Paratransit Program was selected as Paratransit System of the Year by CalACT, the California Association for Coordinated Transportation, which is the industry association for small, rural and specialized transportation providers in California. The SFMTA was
    selected for its role as a leader in developing innovative approaches to providing services to its senior and disabled residents. SFMTA’s Paratransit Program was lauded for innovations such as the SFMTA-subsidized taxi program, allowing riders to purchase $30 worth of
    taxi value for $5.50; the Shop A Round program providing round trips to shops and markets; and its Van Gogh program, addressing social isolation
    by providing groups of seniors transportation to plays, movies, museums and other cultural events. The Accessible Services Paratransit Debit Card, which replaced paper scrip, was cited as a technological
    innovation that allows for more efficient electronic data collection and a more user-friendly customer experience. Congratulations to Kate Toran, Annette Williams and the entire team at Taxi and Accessible Services for your great work!”

    “By and large, the taxi companies have accepted the requirements of working with the city and have been great partners. We can say with assurance they consistently stand up and deliver, and it makes a huge
    difference to the program. In fact, customer satisfaction surveys consistently reflect scores in the high 90s for their level of service, reliability and overall satisfaction.”

    Do you have any reason to believe that these systems are other than what they are advertised? My friends who use it say that they are great. Some people will complain about anything, no matter how nice or cheap it is.

  • caryl

    Thanks for the background. Sounds like a tough problem and I appreciate the thoughtful discussion. Too often, I think we build things without thinking about (and planning for) the impacts to our transportation infrastructure, so I was glad to see some thought going into ways we might mitigate Bay Bridge problems caused by the potential TI development – *before* they occur. While I realize there are complex issues involved, I just hope that the final solution doesn’t assume the status quo – that everyone will just drive everywhere they need to go. That solution isn’t going to work for anyone.

  • NoeValleyJim

    From the Outer Richmond it takes longer than that. I take Muni all the time, I am very familiar with how long it takes to go places on Muni.

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