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Should the free ride end for car pools on Bay Area bridges?

By dcuff
Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 at 9:23 pm in BART, Bay Bridge, Bridges, Carpooling, casual carpools, driving, Freeways, Golden Gate Bridge, Retrofitting, Safety, tolls.

Car pooling has worked so well on Bay Area bridges that bridge operators are considering ending the free rides for car pool users during weekday rush hours.

I can hear the rumble of protest brewing among car pool users: “Hey government, we took car pools like you asked, so why penalize us by ending the free ride?” Isn’t that like water districts raising water rates in a drought to offset the loss of revenue from customers using less water? some people might ask.

The issue is likely to reverberate through the halls of the Bay Area Toll Authority – a regional toll collection agency – in the next year as the authority’s board and managers discuss how to pay for $950 million in proposed seismic retrofits for the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges.

The toll authority revealed today that it is looking at three toll options, one that would keep the free rides for car pools in rush hour, and two options that would charge either $2 or $3 per car pool. That rate would still amount to a discount from the regular car toll, which would increase from $4 to $5 per car under a proposal unveiled today by the toll authority.

To the toll authority, the bottom line is they need more money fairly quickly for two new bridge safety projects, and the increase in car pools and decline in paying motorists on bridges is eating a big hole in their wallet.

During spring this year, car pools accounted for about 46 percent of the vehicles crossing the Bay Bridge between 7 a.m and 8 a.m., the toll authority reported today in a report. Toll revenues from the seven bridges in the Bay Area (all except the independly run Golden Gate) are about $30 million annually below forecasts.

Amy Worth, an Orinda city councilwoman on the toll authority board, said she thinks it’s fair to make car pool users share the financial burden of paying to strengthen the two bridges against earthquakes.

Worth said car pools would continue to get to use preferential car pool lanes on the Bay Bridge approach, saving some 20 minutes on their morning commute from the East Bay to San Francisco.

That big time saving, Worth suggests, is a bigger incentive than the free rides to motivate people to take car pools across the bridge into San Francisco, she suggested. Besides, some toll authorities in other states already collect a discounted toll from car pools during rush hour, she noted. 

Will car pool users buy these arguments of the toll authority, or will they kick and scream about the possibility of losing the free ride? What is the fair thing to do? Share you opinions below  













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19 Responses to “Should the free ride end for car pools on Bay Area bridges?”

  1. John Miller Says:

    The problem here is not the toll cost, it is the associated transaction cost. The need to stop, get out cash, hand cash to attendant, receive change (and in my case a receipt because we bill our clients for travel expenses) and so on… All this restricts the number of cars per minute. The difference between no payment and some payment will be far more significant then the difference of a couple of bucks.

  2. Malcolm Carden Says:

    What will happen to buses – don’t they share lanes with car pools at present? Will buses have to wait behind car pools while they pay their toll, or will there still be dedicated lanes for them? To address Mr. Miller’s issue, however, there is this device called Fastrak that saves having to dig around for cash. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the people who pick up car poolers regularly have them already, in fact. Also, not having car pools shooting through the non-metered lanes and clogging up the bridge approaches will probably speed up the metering lights for everyone. Plus AC Transit will probably gain some riders and revenue.

  3. wcmillionairre Says:

    A toll, is a toll, is a toll…frankly, I do not understand why anyone could ever feel car-pool lanes are justified.

  4. murphstahoe Says:

    This would probably have some impact on the whole casual carpool thing.

  5. Jack Says:

    The goal of all transit plans should be to reduce people using cars when other options are available, so a toll is fine for carpools. It should not be cheaper to drive into SF than it is to take BART or AC. keep a discount over single users, but a charge is ok. There shoudl also be increased fees for people driving alone across the bridges during rush hour. 7-9am charge $8+ to go solo across. Discourage use of cars into the city, that is the important thing. raise enough money in tolls to fix the bridge and then to start lowering train fares.

  6. Willard Says:

    I’ve been commuting on the transbay (AC green) buses for 3 years. What I’ve noticed is when school is out during the summer months there are very few traffic snarls. When school begins again in the fall the freeways are gridlock. Why not penalize that group for a change. Parents are the ones not pooling and causing congestion when their children are back in school. doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

  7. Samantha Says:

    The bridge authorities are looking for additional sources of revenue. They originally thought that they could get it by raising the tolls to $4; however, that backfired as more people opted to use public transportation and carpooling. Remember that the bridge authorities claimed they were raising the tolls to reduce bridge congestion. Well, they got exactly what they wanted — with an unintended consequence for them. I believe it is unfair to raise bridge tolls which are designated for specific projects without any sunset provisions –that is, without a specific date when it will end. The bridge authorities seem to think that they can just take anybody and everybody for a ride, so to speak. And yes, asking the carpoolers to pay toll is, to me, unfair. I pay enough real estate taxes, state taxes and sales taxes for all the projects the state said they would do, without having to be dinged more for doing something they wanted me to do in the first place. I will definitely agitate against this. Put sunset provisions on your toll hikes, then maybe we can talk.

  8. L. Joseph Says:

    It currently costs $9.05 to drive 113 miles from end to end of the New Jersey Turnpike. No freebies for carpoolers, just discounts for seniors and green vehicles and those only during off peak hours.

    Have a gander at the toll rates for the bridges and tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey (EZ Pass is the equivalent of our Fastrak):

    California’s been getting off cheaply.

  9. rhj Says:

    “California’s been getting off cheaply.”

    I would say it is the other way around. NJ is getting screwed.

    CA is getting no bargain either.

  10. ndnq Says:

    So….currently, I pick up riders in Vallejo and drive in. Right now, S.F. is considering a fee for driving city streets in certain areas during rush hour—right where I have to drop off and pick up riders for the trip home. Now we’ll be paying a bridge toll alongside that?

  11. ndnq Says:

    Scratch that: TWO bridge tolls to/From Vallejo.

    So three dollars to drive through S.F. both ways, plus 8 to drive two bridges…and gas…

    OR a two and a half hour trip on public transport.

    Lordy. Time to leave California….it’s just too expensive here.

  12. Doug Says:

    Carpoolers already have the cost reduction of sharing the expense, charge them full price.
    Besides, I disagree with the whole argument for carpools in the first place. I have carpooled for months with several different partners, and most people do not continue carpooling because of free or faster lanes. Carpool lanes are unsafe and unfair and I have not seen a well done study that properly analyzes the problems and benefits of carpool lanes.
    We put in carpool lanes as a compromise with the ecologists so they would not block the building of more lanes by challenging the ecological impact reports. Since then we have done the most superficial appraisals with fundamentally flawed logic and reported our conclusions on the basis of what we wanted to conclude.
    Carpool lanes have created a privileged class that now feels entitled to their ‘rights’. Worse yet is the movement to allow individuals to pay for the right to drive (alone) in the ‘carpool’ lanes, extending the favored class to include those with more money, even though we have all paid money over years to build these bridges and roads.

  13. Deb Says:

    Carpooling should be encouraged, not discouraged. For those people who take advantage of this means of transit, it saves lots of time. The problem is that there are not a lot of people using carpools. During the BART strike a few years ago, there were several single occupant cars crossing the bridges.

    This is not necessarily going to increase ridership for AC Transit, which already has buses with standing room only going into the City during the commute hours.

    As another rider points out, a toll for carpool lanes will slow down an already congested bridge. What’s next, tolls for buses?

  14. dcuff Says:

    In response to the question about how the proposed tolls would be collected from car pools, the Bay Area Toll Authority managers say they would require car pool drivers sign up for FasTrak to use the car pool lanes on bridges. The strategy, they say, would be to collect the tolls electronically while causing as little backup as possible.

  15. Edwin Ball Says:

    first off, the car pool lanes are a joke. You get some yahoo in there doing 58 MPH, traffic stacked up behind him for miles and he/she refuses to relinquish the left lane. The California Freeway concept was to expediously move traffic from one point to another. these civilian police do nore to cause sig alerts then to save the environment. Left lane for overtaking slower traffic,period

  16. Susan Says:

    I’d like to see them kick out all the single-driver hybrids. That’s been the single biggest change I’ve noticed in terms of the overall congestion of the carpool lanes.

  17. Eric Says:

    I am in favor of charging for carpools. In fact,as Doug says, eliminate the discount, because carpoolers split the toll at least three ways. Also, as long as the casual carpooling menace continues, carpools do not help relieve congestion or lessen gas waste or combat climate change. Casual carpooling only allows single occupant auto users to use bus riders as human fast trak devices. Because of this piggishness, bus ridership and revenue go down, toll revenue goes down and budget crises are worsened. Transportation planners should be trying to get the most people in the fewest vehicles. Casual carpooling does the opposite of this. It should branded for what it is, not rewarded.

  18. david vartanoff Says:

    The carpool concept is FILL UP the vehicle! Casual carpooling does this just as validly as ‘organized’ does The discount should obtain 24/7 I have said for years the tolls should penalize the single drivers, again, 24/7. The one exception IMHO is that BART should receive NO Funds from tolls collected during hours they refuse to operate.

  19. Mary Says:

    We should be doing everything possible to maintain and expand carpools!

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