Published Thursday, January 13, 2011, by the San Francisco Chronicle
Bridges' toll increases put revenue plans on track
By John Wildermuth
Chronicle Staff Writer
The toll increases at the Bay Bridge and other state-owned Bay Area spans are on track to raise an anticipated $129 million in new revenue, a Metropolitan Transportation Commission committee learned Wednesday.
Six months after boosting tolls to $5 -- and as high as $6 during peak commute hours on the Bay Bridge -- the $68.4 million in new money is 53 percent of what was expected for the entire year.
"This is tracking well against what we expected to see after six months," said Linda Lee of the commission staff.
How have commuters responded to the toll increases? The general attitude is a "resigned acceptance" of the increased costs, said Karen Frick, a commission consultant who is also assistant director of the University of California Transportation Center.
Frick and a team of transportation experts from UC Berkeley are working on a yearlong study to determine what effects the toll increases have had on commuter transportation patterns. They're looking especially closely at the Bay Bridge, which is involved in a "congestion pricing" program, which raises and lowers tolls depending on the time of day.
The consultants surveyed almost 1,000 commuters and brought in an additional 85 for two-hour-long focus groups.
The survey found that only 60 percent of commuters say a car is necessary for their trips across the bay and that 22 percent could change their destination and an additional 27 percent could alter the time of day they cross the bridge.
"That means that some people have choices and can make changes," Frick said. "We only need a few people to change patterns to make a big impact on the bridge."
Altering travel times
Since congestion pricing was started six month ago, traffic on the Bay Bridge has dropped slightly during the prime 5 to 10 a.m. weekday commute, when the toll is $6, and increased a bit on the edges of those peak hours, when the toll drops to $4.
"We aren't seeing a lot of people trade their mode (of travel), but they are trading their travel times at the edges" of the commute," she added.
One reason more people aren't giving up their cars to save money is that so many have free or subsidized parking. Of drivers heading into San Francisco, the survey found, more than 60 percent weren't paying the full rate to park in the city, an amount that can run $3 an hour or more -- sometimes a lot more -- in the downtown area.
"It surprised us that a lot of people had access to free parking," Frick said. "But people in the focus groups wouldn't tell us where that free parking was. And we tried to find out."
The end of the free ride from carpools also has had an effect on bridge traffic. Since the new $2.5o toll for group rides was added, 11,400 fewer vehicles a day have used special bridge carpool lanes, which includes a drop of 4,906 on the Bay Bridge.
[BATN: See before & after table:
"Average daily traffic on Bay Area bridges": <http://tinyurl.com/62lcgpe
Casual carpool conflicts
The casual carpoolers, who in the past shared rides with drivers anxious to avoid paying the toll, are still working out the changes, Frick added. There's plenty of uncertainty about whether they should offer to help pay the new tolls, and people in the focus groups provided "reports of occasional conflicts if (the) rider does not offer to pay or the driver asks," according to her report to the commission.
Other changes have been reported. BART has seen an 8 percent rise in peak morning commute ridership since the bridge tolls went up and the maximum traffic delay between University Avenue in Berkeley and the Bay Bridge toll plaza has dropped about 15 percent, from an average of 27 minutes in May 2009 to 23 minutes in September and November 2010.
While a four-minute improvement won't raise shouts of joy from Bay Bridge commuters, it is an important accomplishment, said Steve Heminger, the commission's executive director.
"There are not many things that we present to you that have a 15 percent benefit, he told committee members at the Oakland meeting. "Drivers may not perceive it as significant, but when you look at the cold, hard figures, it is."
E-mail John Wildermuth at jwildermuth@...
[BATN: See also:
Bay Bridge congestion toll cut trip time 4 min. (15%), BATA says
Column: SF milks "cash cow" drivers with pricey parking tickets
Findings differ on travel time effect of Bay Bridge congestion toll
Bay Bridge carpools down 8%; drop began before new $2.50 HOV toll
Bay Bridge tolls cut traffic & carpools, boost toll revenue & BART
New HOV lane bridge toll cuts & alters casual carpool market
Bay Bridge congesting pricing toll halved rush hour delays -- why?
GG Bridge carpools drop 74% after HOV toll & FasTrak are required
Bay Area bridge toll hike has cut traffic, boosted average speeds
Bay Bridge toll hikes cut HOVs & traffic, boosted BART ridership
Bay Bridge toll may have cut carpools; overall traffic down 8.5%
Despite fears, new Bay Area bridge tolls fail to slow commute
Congestion pricing affects Bay Bridge driver behavior on first day
New Bay Area HOV bridge toll may threaten casual carpools
Toll increase and new HOV toll may snarl Bay Bridge traffic