Despite Service Cuts, GG Transit Fare Hikes Are Outpacing Bridge Tolls

As it does every year, the Golden Gate Transportation District Board of Directors is set approve another 5 percent fare hike this week in its budget for the next fiscal year.

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But bridge tolls don’t appear to be keeping pace with rising transit fares — a pattern that GGTHD board member and transit advocate Dave Snyder says unfairly burdens bus riders and encourages more car traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, as the agency cuts transit service despite increasing ridership.

“That’s the exact opposite of what we want to be doing,” said Snyder. “We’re not raising enough money to maintain transit service. We’re cutting transit service.”

A one-way adult fare for a two-zone trip from San Rafael to San Francisco is currently $5.25. That would increase to $5.50 on July 1, and another 5 percent every year at least until 2016. GG Transit ridership across the bridge has increased 6.2 percent over the past year, according to the district’s latest report [PDF].

Meanwhile, the agency is on its way to slashing its bus operating budget by $31.4 million from 2010 to 2020. (This year’s proposed bus operating budget is $84.7 million.)

But since 2002, tolls for car commuters have only increased one time — a 2008 hike that raised the cash toll 20 percent and the discount toll 25 percent. By comparison, 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.

Snyder said the next toll increase is expected to come in next year’s budget, after all-electronic toll collection is implemented, and that the agency is looking to approve future toll increases annually from there on. But he’s “concerned that there will be pressure to keep bridge tolls as low as possible without regard to public transit. We have to catch up next year.”

The budget [PDF] is scheduled to go before the board’s Finance Committee tomorrow and be approved by the full board on Friday.

  • mikesonn

    Not only that, but Marinites put an unfair burden on the street network of our city in general – wearing down our roads, slowing down Muni, etc.

    But as always in our “green” Bay Area, cars uber alles.

  • The obvious answer is of course to put a toll on peds/cyclists crossing the bridge…. 🙁

  • The problem is that GGBTHD doesn’t operate itself like an integrated fare system. It should ask, What’s the most efficient way to move people, and how do we get there?

  • mikesonn

    If they asked that question, they wouldn’t like the answer. So they don’t ask that question.

    Problem “solved”.

  • voltairesmistress

    In a more fair and economically rational world, there would be no tolls across the Bay Area’s bridges.  Having tolls impedes commerce and creates artificial bottlenecks between parts of the Bay Area.  I put just as much stress on the roads and fellow taxpayers when I drive from SF to SFO but pay nothing.  Meanwhile, I pop over to Emeryville and pay 4-6 dollars for the privilege.  That does not distribute the costs properly.  A better way would be to institute state highway use fees everywhere or a high enough gasoline/mileage tax to pay for all state roadways.  It is absurd that the Golden Gate folks run their own bridge and transit system — that should be Caltrans (at least for the bridge).

  •  Or raise ferry fares!  That’ll raise $2 million of their $80 million shortfall.  Brilliant!

  • Andy Chow

    These bridges were built before the freeway era and because of the significant investment, user fees were placed to repay the investment and would supposedly go away after the bridge is paid off. Bridges in Southern California have gone toll free because of that.

    However up here, we keep the tolls as a de facto congestion pricing, with the revenue going for seismic retrofit, replacement of the Bay Bridge East Span, and transit. Bridge toll is what primarily funds the transit that cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

    Making the bridges toll free (along with cutting transit cost), would definitely change the regional dynamics by making the cost of commuting from the East Bay to downtown SF as cheap as commuting from the Sunset or the Richmond. But because of differences in jurisdiction, there’s a lack of interest to accomplish that, but rather they see the bridge corridors as a revenue source. However imagine what if the bridges don’t exist, then the transportation cost would be much higher.

  • In a more fair and economically rational world the publically run ferry would be free.

  • voltairesmistress

    Free ferries and buses and toll-free bridge crossings would be seamless but only appear to be free.  We would pay for them with more generalized, hopefully progressive, taxes — on gasoline, annual odometer readings, higher car sales taxes based on engine size, and income taxes.  I know this seems dreamy, but it is what many other countries in Europe do.

  • +1

    The problem is that while Americans can go to the store and decide “I want that 32 oz soda, so I will pay for it”, the abstract concept of “I want a road, so I will pay taxes for it” is beyond them. Or more so they realize that some of their taxes are used to pay for things they don’t utilize, without recognizing that they utilize some things that other people contributed taxes towards who aren’t utilizing that thing.

    It then all gets wrapped up into the concept of “WASTE” which is propagated by people who make a lot of money and will never recognize full utility from their taxes – as long as they ignore the fact that the reason they make a lot of money is precisely due to the functioning society made possible by all those taxes they pay.

    The fact a ferry ticket from Oakland is more expensive than the Bay Bridge toll is ridiculous, given the very obvious cost of bridge construction. Not nearly as pernicious as the $5 per vehicle entry fee into Haleakala State Park on Maui – $5 for bikes, $5 for 10 people in a mini-van.

  • mikesonn

    “Having tolls impedes commerce and creates artificial bottlenecks between parts of the Bay Area.”

    I don’t see how tolling a bridge makes it any more of a choke point than the bridge itself. Traffic backs up going east in the PM rush hours only slightly less than it does in the AM rush hour that deals with tolls. 

  • voltairesmistress

     I agree about the mismatch of fees to transport modes.  Last Sunday my spouse and I drove by car from SF to Orinda to have dinner w/ family that lives in the East Bay.  Trip cost was about $9 (gas & tolls).  Other car costs (insurance, registration) are already sunk into the car, so I don’t count them here.  Time spent: 40 minutes.  MUNI and Bart would have cost us about $24 and probably 2 hours travel time.  One can see why people choose to drive.  If we can’t do much about the time, at least we should reverse the relationship of out-of-pocket costs.  It’s just not right that it’s more economical for even a single person to drive alone than for that same person to use transit.

  • Andy Chow

    I don’t know about that, since BART carries high ridership across the Bay (about 1/2 of its total ridership). If somehow BART is not competitive (travel time, price, etc), then it wouldn’t pull this kind of ridership and revenue. It doesn’t mean that BART is competitive for every possible trip that crosses the Bay, but it is very competitive in markets where it counts.

    Carpooling is obviously much more economical per person. If more of the population is doing it then we won’t have traffic congestion (traffic congestion begins when the traffic surpasses a certain threshold). It is just simply hard to make carpool matching to happen.

    Carpooling is more like bartering, where taking transit/shuttles/cabs is more like buying things from a store. We all have things that we are gladly to sell or get rid of, but we don’t have people knocking our doors asking us for things we don’t want, rather they go to a store.

  • mikesonn

    I’d argue parking prices in the downtown core has more to do with BART being competitive to driving than any comparison to toll prices.

  • Tortoise

    15 years ago, the east bay bridge cost $1. Now it’s $6. Are we seriously claiming that bus fares have risen sixfold in 15 years?

    For GG bridge the fare has only doubled, but that’s still way ahead of CPI/RPI. Considering these bridges were supposed to be free once the original bonds were paid off, these tolls are pure profit.

  • mikesonn

    “these tolls are pure profit.”

    Pure profit used to keep the bridges open and operating. But that’s what the stagnant gas tax and Prop 13 suppressed property taxes are for!

  • Tortise – have you seen that little construction project going on between Oakland and Treasure Island? Tell you what, you can drive on the old, paid for bridge if you like once the new one opens.

  • Andy Chow

    When the bridges start collecting tolls on carpools, more people have diverted from carpool to transit. Even before the tolls on carpools, more people carpool casually in the morning than in the afternoon. The toll does affect behavior for some drivers.

  • SteveS

    I would say this is the exact opposite of the problem we have. The problem is that Americans expect roads to be free and transit to have a fare. If people expected all modes of travel to have a use fee covering their full cost that would be great!

    If all roads had tolls covering 100% of their construction and maintenance, and all transit also had fares covering 100% of their construction, maintenance, and operation, we’d have a system much more friendly to transit than we do under the current arrangement where we provide massive subsidies covering the full cost of almost every inch of pavement in the country and much smaller subsidies to transit.

    And such a system would be drastically more favorable to biking and walking, especially if you had pollution fees on the cars and transit vehicles in addition to the tolls and fares for maintenance and operation.

  • Sprague

    Kudos to Dave Snyder for his lonely work on the Bridge Board advocating for a more balanced and sustainable transportation policy.  If Golden Gate Transit’s service were improving at a rate similar to their fare hikes, the fare increases could be well justified.  But, Golden Gate Transit’s service has gradually deteriorated over the past 15 to 20 years.  Geary Blvd. used to have daily service at 30 minute intervals until 9 pm or so; now there are just a few buses at peak times on weekdays only.  There used to be later service leaving SF at night; this has been cut, too.  As this former Golden Gate Transit regular rider knows, their transit service could benefit from greater innovation and experimentation so as to attract more riders to their system and keep their farebox recovery rate high.  (Some examples: putting deadheaded buses into service in non-peak directions, implementing family fares or mutli-county day passes to grow ridership at non-peak times.)  Thank you to Dave Snyder for highlighting the Bridge Board’s enrionmentally unconscionable, disparate treatment of its transit riders and its car commuters.


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