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Bridge Operators Consider Raising Tolls In Bay Area

By: Denis Cuff
San Jose Mercury-News/Contra Costa Times
October 14, 2009


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Higher tolls on seven Bay Area bridges appear to be on the road ahead, along with an end to free rush-hour rides for carpoolers and the start of peak-commute tolls on the Bay Bridge.

Members of the Bay Area Toll Authority oversight committee said Monday they are receptive to proposals to raise the basic toll from $4 to $5 per car next summer on all state-run Bay Area toll bridges. The Golden Gate Bridge is run by another agency.

A vote on toll increases is scheduled for January.

After getting their first look at three toll increase options, committee members also expressed support for the notion of collecting tolls from carpoolers during rush hour and revamping Bay Bridge tolls to increase during rush hour and decrease in less busy times. Carpoolers now pay no toll during peak commute hours.

Charging higher tolls during heavier traffic times — such as $6 instead of $4 — would give motorists more incentive to shift work hours and travel times or to switch to public transit or carpools, relieving congestion, said toll authority members.

"This is the time we need to try congestion pricing," said Sue Lempert, a San Mateo County representative on the authority. "I don't think there is a better example than the Bay Bridge. I think it's worth a try."

The Bay Bridge is the best one in the region to test variable tolls — also called congestion pricing — because it's the busiest bridge and has the best public transit options such as BART, said Steve Heminger, the toll authority executive director.

The practice of charging higher fees in peak periods is used by some water, telephone and electrical utilities, Heminger said. "It's worth getting the test in place, and seeing the response of real-world travelers," he said.

The 16-member Bay Area Toll Authority will hold public hearings on the toll increase in November, and then vote Jan. 27 on changes that would go effect July 1, according to a tentative schedule.

The toll authority collects tolls on the Bay Bridge plus six others, Benicia, Zampa, Richmond-San Rafael, San Mateo, Dumbarton and Antioch.

Under the first option for a toll increase, the basic toll on the seven bridges would increase from $4 to $5 per vehicle. Carpoolers would pay $3 during rush hour. The toll for a three-axle truck would climb from $6 to $11.

Under the second option, carpoolers would continue to get a free ride in peak hours, while the basic toll would increase from $4 to $5 for all other automobiles. The charge for a three-axle truck would increase from $6 to $15.

A third option calls for a $3 toll for carpoolers during peak hours. On all but the Bay Bridge, the basic toll would increase from $4 to $5 for other cars. On the Bay Bridge, the toll would be $6 per car from 5 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays, while the toll at other weekday times would remain at $4. On weekends, the toll would be $5 per car.

Jake Mackenzie, a Rohnert Park council member on the toll authority, said the Bay Bridge toll should be raised to as much as $10 in the busiest 30 minutes of the commute hours to reduce congestion and the production of greenhouse gases.

Scott Haggerty, an Alameda County supervisor and authority member, said he supports congestion pricing but thinks $10 is too "huge." Haggerty suggested that the rush-hour toll on carpoolers should be less than $3 per vehicle.

Many motorists will be unhappy about paying higher tolls, Haggerty said, but they should remember the main reason for the increase is to fortify bridges against earthquakes. "We're raising the rates to make the bridges safer so they will stand up."

Reach Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Read the Capricious Commuter blog at www.ibabuzz.com/transportation.







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