People who take car pools across seven Bay Area bridges may be in for an unpleasant change next year: the end of free rides for car pools during rush-hour periods. And on the Bay Bridge, regular drivers not in car pools also may in for a shock: higher tolls during peak commute periods than at other times.
Proposed options to make those major changes in July were unveiled Monday by the Bay Area Toll Authority, which plans to hold hearings in November. I’m betting both changes are going to come under fire from some angry drivers. Members of the Toll Authority’s oversight committee made it pretty clear Monday that they broadly support the changes even if the officials want to study and modify some details of the changes. Check out a discussion on by clicking here on the BATA staff report.
Critics are likely to condemn the proposals as heavy-handed social engineering. Let’s take up car pools, first. Some car pool users will say goverment will be shooting itself in the foot by abolishing the free ride for car pools because – after all – squeezing more people into fewer cars reduces congestion and pollution.
In reply, Toll Authority staffers say don’t know of anywhere else in the nation where car pools get a completely free ride on toll bridges. New York and New Jersey give discounts, but not free rides to car pools.
Steve Heminger, the Toll Authority executive director, says he believes the biggest incentive to travel by car pool across the Bay Bridge is the time savings from being able to zip through the toll gates in the car pool lanes.
Heminger also contends that car pools should start paying some rush hour toll because money from a toll increase will go mostly toward $750 million in seismic retrofits planned on the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges, the last two toll bridges in the region to be upgraded for earthquake protection. Car pool users benefit from safety improvements aimed at keeping them alive and keeping their bridges standing, he says.
The proposal for higher fares during rush hour periods on the Bay Bridge also is going to be a hot button issue, too. Some will argue that charging a $6 toll in rush hour and $4 at other times is government forcing people when to travel, or penalizing people whose jobs require them to be at work early in the morning.
Toll Authority members say congestion pricing is the most effective way to steer people to change driving times or switch to public transit, reducing freeway congestion and global warming gases. Getting 15 or 20 percent of the Bay Bridge morning commuters to shift their commute times could make a huge difference in smoothing traffic flows, Toll Authority administrators say.
Also, a peak time surcharge on tolls could spur some employers to let workers start their day earlier or later, officials said.
The public will get several chances to sound off on toll increase proposals, starting with the next Toll Authority oversight committee meeting 9:30 a.m. Nov. 4 at the Metrocenter in Oakland.
Share you thoughts below on what the authority should do about tolls.