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John Hagins of Benicia, Calif. stands in front of his bass fishing boat at his home in Benicia Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. Many boaters and recreational vehicle owners are upset about a proposed Bay Area bridge toll increases. Under the proposal which is up for vote Wednesday, Hagins' toll todrive his vehicle and boat across a bridge would increase from $8.25 to $20.00. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff)

Phil Hinton, a recreational boater, says he doesn't mind paying his fair share of tolls to make Bay Area bridges stronger to resist earthquakes.

But he's outraged by a proposal to more than double the toll for towing his 30-foot boat over a Bay Area bridge from $11.25 to $25 — the same increase as a commercial freight truck driver would pay.

"It's very unfair to treat me like a trucker hauling a big rig out of the Port of Oakland," said Hinton, a Dublin resident. "My boat is a lot lighter, causes less wear and tear on the roads, and I'm not using it for commercial purposes. This toll increase is shocking to boaters."

Hinton and other others who tow boat trailers or second vehicles on recreation trips are steaming over the Bay Area Toll Authority's proposal for steep increases ranging from $9 to $13.25 over two years.

The Toll Authority is scheduled to vote on the increases Wednesday.

Recreation advocates — including boaters, campers and motorhome owners — contend they would be gouged by a toll system that blindly bases charges on the total number of axles. They suggest lower tolls for noncommercial, recreational vehicles.

Under the system, the driver of a two-axle car or pickup truck towing a three-axle boat trailer now pays the same $11.25 toll as a typical commercial big rig and trailer with five axles.

Bridge operators defend the system, saying they need a simple, uniform way to collect tolls from the masses crossing seven state-run bridges in the Bay Area.

Recreation advocates already dislike that they now pay the same tolls as truckers. The proposed increases further aggravate them.

John Hagins, a Benicia recreational fisherman, said he was shocked to learn that the toll to tow his two-axle bass boat trailer over the Benicia Bridge would increase from $8.25 to $20.

Hagins is assessed at two axles for his vehicle plus two axles for the trailer.

"It's outrageous to charge me a $20 bridge toll every time I want to take my bass boat to fresh water over in Antioch or Oakley," said Hagins, a retired school maintenance manager who goes fishing three times a week.

"I'm on a fixed income," he said. "At least the truckers can pass higher tolls on to their customers. I can only pass the charges on to me."

Linda Smith, of Martinez, is upset that the toll would increase from $8.25 to $20 to drive her two-axle motorhome with a car in tow over the Benicia Bridge to overnight outings with the Holiday Rambler Recreational Vehicle Club.

She and her husband would pay only $10 in tolls if they drove the two vehicles separately over the bridge because the car toll is proposed to rise only from $4 to $5.

"This is just another fee increase that makes it harder to get by when you're retired," Smith said. "Why so much? We're not a commercial trucker."

Toll Authority members say state law requires them to base tolls on the number of axles. The idea is that more axles means more weight and more wear and tear on highways and bridges, said Rod McMillan, the toll authority director of bridge oversight and operations.

He acknowledged some cars carrying boats don't weigh as much as freight trucks with the same number of axles.

But bridge operators, he said, need a simple rule to quickly collect tolls — especially as more drivers use the FasTrak system that collects tolls electronically.

Drivers hauling trailers make up a small percentage of vehicles crossing bridges, although he said the authority has no way to count them, McMillan said.

Boaters say they would be willing to use the cash lane at toll booths if the Toll Authority would adopt a special rate for motorists hauling boats.

Read the Capricious Commuter blog at www.ibabuzz.com/transportation.

PLANNED TOLLS FOR TRUCKS AND VEHICLES WITH TRAILERS
Proposal from Bay Area Toll Authority for seven state-run bridges.
Big rigs, and vehicles towing boat trailers or other vehicles are charged by total number of axles. A 2-axle car towing a 2-axle boat trailer pays a 4-axle toll.
Axles Current toll July 2011 July 2012
3 $6 $10.50 $15
4 $8.25 $14 $20
5 $11.25 $18 $25
6 $12 $21 $30
7 $13.50 $24.25 $35