Bay Area bridge operators unanimously approved a plan to raise tolls by 25 percent on six spans and to introduce congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge, with a $6 toll during weekday rush hours.
As part of the plan, carpools will for the first time pay a toll, $2.50, on all seven state-run bridges, ending a long-standing free-ride policy.
The 16-member Bay Area Toll Authority approved the toll structure with little comment, making no change to a plan it had announced in December after months of public discussions and workshops.
The new tolls — $5 on most of the bridges — will take effect July 1. Bay Bridge drivers will face a sliding-scale toll ranging from the current $4 during off-peak times to $5 on weekends and $6 during commute hours.
Truckers with three or more axles — as well as drivers towing boats or cars — face much steeper increases, but they will be postponed a year, and then raised in two steps, in July 2011 and July 2012. Tolls for a big-rig and trailer will climb more than 122 percent, from $11.25 to $25.
The authority says the increases are needed to pay for $750 million in seismic retrofits of the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges and to offset higher financing costs and reduced toll revenues from declining bridge traffic.
Besides the Bay Bridge, the authority sets tolls for the Richmond, Benicia, Carquinez, Antioch, Dumbarton and San Mateo bridges. Tolls on the Golden Gate are set by a local agency.
While many bridge users say the increases place an unfair financial burden on 315,000 daily bridge users, Toll Authority staff members say that without the higher tolls, the agency would be forced to postpone the Antioch and Dumbarton seismic work.
Carpoolers who spoke at the meeting said charging the $2.50 toll for vehicles with three or more occupants would erode the incentive to form carpools during congested rush hours.
"I will stop picking up carpoolers," said Rachel Chang, who picks up riders at casual carpool gathering spots. "Carpooling will break down and you will end up with more vehicles on the bridge."
Toll Authority staff members said they believe many people will continue to carpool because they can save time using the less-crowded carpool lanes leading to toll booths.
Toll Authority member Tom Bates, Berkeley's mayor, pleaded for a $2 carpool toll, but the board voted down his proposal 13-3.
Also speaking were bicycling advocates who asked the authority to increase the $6 rush-hour toll on the Bay Bridge to raise money for a bicycle lane on the west span. A bike path is part of the new east span that's under construction.
Steve Heminger, Toll Authority executive director, said his agency lacks authority to spend toll money on a west span bike lane without a change in state law or approval by Bay Area voters.
Besides, he said, the increase doesn't provide enough money for a west span bike lane, which could cost $300 million or more. Authority members said they would look into options for funding.
The Toll Authority is a sister agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region's transportation planing and funding agency. A 1997 state law gave the commission the authority to manage bridge toll money.
The toll was $1 in 1998. Increases since then have gone to bridge seismic projects and traffic congestion improvements such as the Caldecott Tunnel fourth bore and a $490 million BART plan to extend rail service to the Oakland International Airport.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Read the Capricious Commuter blog at IBABuzz.com/transportation.
VEHICLE TYPE TOLL TOLL
Cars on six bridges* $4 $5
Cars on Bay Bridge $4 $6 during weekday rush hours
$4 during weekday off peak
$5 on weekends
Carpools on all 0 $2.50 during the rush hour
5-axle truck $11.25 $25
big rig and trailers**
* Includes Benicia, Carquinez, Richmond, San Mateo, Dumbarton and Antioch bridges
** truck toll increase raised in two steps in July 2011 and July 2012
Source: Bay Area Toll Authority
Who pays bridge tolls
Breakdown of tolls paid on seven state bridges in Bay Area
About 315,000 motorists a day pay the tolls
County Percent of
of origin total toll payers
Contra Costa 20%
Solano County 19 %
San Francisco 9 %
San Mateo 7%
Santa Clara 1%
Out of region 6%