Bay Area Toll Authority Mulls Toll Increase Scenarios, Seeks Public Input

bay_bridge_traffic_small.jpgPhoto: kpmarek

As the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) continues its regional public hearings, including one tonight in San Francisco, the various options the agency is proposing for increasing bridge tolls are generating a number of debates and proposals, including the funding of the long-discussed pedestrian/bicycle/maintenance paths over the west span of the Bay Bridge.

The toll increases and changes would take effect on the seven state-owned Bay Area bridges, (Antioch, Benicia-Martinez, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond-San Rafael, San Francisco-Oakland Bay and San Mateo-Hayward bridges), and the additional revenue would go primarily to finance the $750 million that BATA estimates is needed for seismic retrofits to the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges. The new tolls could be voted on as soon as the January BATA meeting.

The three toll increase scenarios are:

  • Option 1: $5 toll for autos and motorcycles, $3 for carpools and $6 per each additional axle for trucks
  • Option 2: $5 toll for autos and motorcycles, $0 for carpools and $10 per each additional axle for trucks
  • Option 3:
    Same as Option 1 for six bridges except for San Francisco-Oakland Bay
    Bridge, which would charge $6 for autos and motorcycles in peak hours
    and $4 for autos in non-peak hours (M-F), and $5 for autos on weekends

Of all the options, number 3, which essentially works out to congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge, is generating a good deal of debate. TransForm, which advocates for smart growth and alternative transportation funding, would like to see the increased congestion fee during peak hours, but would like the fee during non-peak hours on the Bay Bridge to be $5, like the baseline that would be adopted at all the other bridges.

"If BATA’s proposal is to increase the base toll to $5, then they
should use the base to be the non-peak toll at the Bay Bridge, not a
number that’s lower than any other bridge," said Transform’s Carli Paine. Paine also said her organization opposes Option 1 because it would discourage carpooling. "Simply put, let’s
not try to raise the revenue on carpoolers, who are doing what people
should be doing."

Paine also said a big fee increase should come from commercial vehicles, because BATA data showed trucks have a greater
impact on roadways and over time aren’t
paying enough in fees for upkeep, particularly trucks that
aren’t registered in California and don’t pay taxes in the state.

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s (EBBC) position is similar to TransForm’s, though it would like to see language in the resolution that would require BATA to use a portion of the Bay Bridge fee increase to complete the Bay Bridge paths. EBBC Executive Director Robert Raburn said that the new paths would be a benefit for all users of the bridge (vehicle breakdowns and maintenance requiring lane closures currently cause significant traffic delays) and would cost approximately $200 million, just over one year’s projected revenue from the toll increase.

"We have to
bridge the gap. We’ve made a tremendous investment in the East Span,"
said Raburn. "There are only a limited number of
attractions on Treasure Island at present. Right now cyclists don’t
have an option [to go from the East Bay to San Francisco], particularly
when you have the BART blackout. Oakland is closer to the downtown San Francisco district than Marin is
to downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge gets loads of bicycle traffic."

Raburn’s proposal will likely be met with resistance, in part because the funding mechanisms in place at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the parent body of BATA, cannot easily transfer toll money for new projects, according to MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler.

"This toll increase is being used for seismic measures," said Rentschler, who added that Regional Measures 1 and 2, which fund bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects, are beneficiaries of toll money, but are already programmed and leave little room for projects like the west-span Bay Bridge path.

"We need this toll increase in part because this debt strategy requires it," said Rentschler. "We tried in state law to authorize a future vote to do more measures with toll money, a ‘Regional Measure 3’ or similar, but that failed.  This is not about doing more stuff, this is about funding the stuff we’ve got."

Tonight’s hearing is at SF State’s Downtown Campus, 835 Market St., Room 609 (between 5th and 4th Streets). The hearing will feature a short open house (from 6:30 to 7 p.m.) and
a staff presentation (beginning at 7 p.m.) prior to public

You can take an MTC survey here. Written comments will be accepted until 4 p.m., December 21, 2009;
written comments should be submitted to the BATA Public Information
Office at 101 Eighth Street, Oakland, California, 94607-4700; or faxed
to BATA at 510.817.5848; or sent via e-mail to

  • “$6 per each additional axle for trucks”

    This kind of thinking is so backwards. By adding an axle, the truck actually causes less wear on the pavement, as the weight is spread out over more points.

  • how_about

    here’s an idea: set up a truly dynamic congestion pricing scheme.

    use the general-purpose electronic text signs on the freeways approaching bay area bridges to let prospective users know what the current toll is.

    change the toll from hour-to-hour based on actual utilization. it is monday morning but unusually uncrowded? toll would be only $5. maybe it is a sunday afternoon but there’s some sort of event or other issue causing major congestion? toll would be $8 or maybe more.

    this would have three beneficial side-effects:
    1. higher prices may act as a deterrent to voluntary bridge use if another option is available, and would have the effect of managing the congestion by reducing demand.
    2. motorists would have some measure of unpredictability about how much they’d have to pay, which might deter demand in general, on any day.
    3. the “worst” users of the bridge (those who drive every weekday over the bridge at rush hour, in spite of many available alternatives) would pay the most. people who work the late shift with little transit alternatives, crossing in the middle of the night would pay much less.

    $5 base toll, $1 extra for every 10 minutes of traffic currently backed up behind the toll plaza. $1 extra on top of that if metering lights are on.

  • So the MTC spokesman feels, “This is not about doing more stuff, this is about funding the stuff we’ve got.” My response is we’ve got a “world class” East Span bridge pathway to nowhere and a West Span Bridge that doesn’t even offer motorists an emergency breakdown lane. The West Span Bicycle-Pedestrian-Maintenance Pathways address both deficiences with a shore-to-shore pathway refuge for stranded motorists. It would also allow routine maintenance on the upper deck without costly lane closures and emergency vehicle access. Bridge the gap!

  • The thing is, how do we get people to not all leave San Francisco and head eastbound at the same time every work day in their cars … the cause of the clogged streets in Rincon Hill, South Beach, and nearby other highway entrances in South of Market?

    I kinda like Option 3, though I’d be curious to know the “peak hours” times … 5am – 10am maybe?

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Tolling the carpool lane is lunacy. One of the benefits of carpooling — perhaps the most important benefit — is that you roll right through the toll plaza and metering lights without stopping. Adding a toll would instantly erase that benefit. Who would carpool if they had to sit in the toll queue with the riff-raff?

    Probably the best plan would be to make the whole bridge bus, carpool, and trucks only during peak hours. Good luck making that happen.

  • ZA

    Bay Bridge – With 10 lanes to work with, 5 in each direction, ideally there’d be:

    1. A rail lane (double mass transit capacity at a stroke)
    2. A rapid bus lane (double bus times at a stroke)
    3. A carpool lane (no toll, supply casual carpool sites at either end)
    4. A premium solo car lane (milk ’em! I’d pay.)
    5. A spare lane for: maintenance, emergency vehicles, decongestion management.

    (to say nothing of the pedestrian/bike lane that should be completed, if it can be buffered from the wind)

    Far from traffic chaos, I think we’d find traffic about as bad or a little better than it is right now.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    How about we send the grotesquely unethical and incompetent and unprofessional and corrupt MTC executive director ($20 billion of public funds wasted, and counting) off for a long, long, long vacation in San Quentin rather than giving him personal and exclusive control over another few hundre million dollars a year?

  • ZA

    Can we dare to increase the cost of crossing those bridges even more dramatically? Consider an SF-Sacramento roundtrip.

    180 miles total, nearing 4.5-5.0 gallons of fuel burned in an efficient car with little congestion. That’s at least $13.00 in fuel, $8.00 in toll on two bridges, and another $2.00 in wear-and-tear plus insurance.
    Total: $23.00-$25.00

    Same roundtrip journey by train and folding bike is: $9.00 for BART and $44.00 for Amtrak (no return-trip pricebreak).
    Total: $53.00

    We need to get to price-parity to start to give people real freedom of choice to do better on the journeys they need to take.

  • Chris

    ^Where are you getting your Amtrak cost from? I ride to Sac and back once or twice a month, and it’s usually $26 or $27 each way (I don’t use BART, but the Amtrak bus that leaves from the Ferry Building).

  • ZA – Richmond to SAC, $22.00 each way. There is a convenience factor for transfering at Richmond – BART’s just across the platform.

  • Chris

    ^Ah, I gotcha. Understood on the convenience thing, but I actually find it more convenient to take the Amtrak bus, because it’s a timed transfer and faster during the times that I take it (usually leaving around 10am).

  • ZA

    @Chris – fair enough, I was looking for a near-complete alternative to the roads & bridges to compare against a private automobile.

    Still, at $52-54, it’s still nearly twice as expensive as a private automobile, and therefore we’ll always have twice as much demand for the car. I think if the pricing became more even, we’d get closer to a true mode-neutral transportation network. It would certainly help people value their time more effectively too.

  • mimi

    Tolling the carpool lane is not lunacy – have you ever heard of fast traq?? they would still get to zip thru the toll plaza, they would jut pa for it and leave all their “passengers back at on AC Transit like they used to be, before drivers started scooping them up at busstops 25 years ago when teh carpool lanes went int

  • Chris P

    I agree with Mimi about casual carpooling. Despite the warm and fuzzy feelings that many people have about it, it does nothing to reduce automobile use and actually hurts public transit. This is because the vast majority of passengers in casual carpools aren’t people who would otherwise be driving – they’re people who’d otherwise be taking transit. In fact, almost all of them take transit back home in the evening. Why should the drivers in casual carpools be rewarded for reducing transit ridership by getting to cross the Bay Bridge for free?

  • jaded

    What’s with all of the hating on the casual carpool? It is also a way to encourage transit, as it makes transit more affordable. $4 per day vs $6-10 daily on BART. Many people in casual carpool would drive not carpool. I also see people drive to a casual carpool stop, and get in the carpool. It reduces congestion whether people bus or not. And there isn’t enough AM transit capacity for casual carpool to go away. BART is completely full by the time it gets to Oakland, and most transbay buses are full on the way over the bridge.

  • Rana

    @Mimi and Chris: I agree with you on your point about casual carpoolers, and I think it also links in well with the price-inequality concern raised by ZA. Anecdotally I absolutely agree that the solution to getting people to use the public transit system is to incentivize it and/or disincentivize driving. This needs to be done in several ways:
    (1) increase the cost to drive vs. using public transport, such that the same trip (e.g. Sac-SF) costs more by car than by public transport;

    (2) provide better access to/convenience of public transport for that same Sac-SF trip (e.g. Make sure connections are better timed, increase public transport’s infrastructure so that you have more transport modes operating at faster speeds, ensure greater safety on public transit, provide
    free/cheap parking at transit terminals)

    Do some of the above and I guarantee you won’t have had people like me driving from Sac to SF everyday for a year because the public transport alternative was double the price, double the commute time, double the hassle/inconvenience. I guarantee you that none of the three toll options being discussed will change what is fundamentally wrong about our while entire system. If we want to decrease traffic, improve air quality, improve the quality of life for commuters, encourage environmentally-conscious decision-making by people, reduce the cost to maintain our roads, etc. WE MUST make fixing/improving our public transportation system the NUMBER ONE PRIORITY!!
    I also wonder/question whether option #2 raises a potential dormant commerce clause challenge. Anyone else concerned about that–especially in light of the quote/analysis raised by Carli Paine?

  • Bob Dobbs

    Eliminate tolls. Pay for the Bay Bridge out of the general highway funds. Tolls slow down traffic and are inconsistent with how most other bridges and highways are administered in the state. Also, bring the Golden Gate Bridge under CaTtrans. We don’t need another agency with another agenda to complicate the already weird Bay Area transportation management structure.

    Finally, provide a full protected lane for bicycles on each Bay Area bridge. You will be surprised how many people will take their bike freeing up care and BART capacity, and it provides higher potential capacity for a lane in the event of a BART failure as compared to cars. It will boost the health of those who choose to take advantage and bike across the Bay to work.

  • “Tolls slow down traffic and are inconsistent with how most other bridges and highways are administered in the state.”

    Note that the Bay Bridge has its traffic slowed down at peak time by metering lights, not by tolls.

  • Don’t all the bridges in the Bay Area have tolls? (I can think of six that do.) How is the Bay Bridge toll inconsistent?

  • I think the worst part of the proposal is charging more an additional fee during commuter (i.e. working) hours. This is a regressive tax on many people who can least afford it.

    Imposition of a stop for tolls is a primary source of congestion. Metering is necessary only because of the need for traffic to remerge after it passes the toll stops. Note that traffic moves more smoothly in the opposite direction, once its on the bridge, without toll booths or meter stops.

    I like the no toll/pay through gas tax option. I think it more fairly distributes the burden. The bridge tolls shouldn’t be a cash cow for someone’s other pet projects.

    And anyone who wishes to ride a bike on any of the bridges, with all the traffic fumes, should have their mind examined.


  • The campaign for the West Span bicycle-pedestrian-maintenance “Safety” path is in high gear.

    The big vote is Wednesday morning: Please come support the path!


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