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Carpoolers oppose plan for HOVs to pay bridge tolls too

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  • 12/30 Contra Costa Times
    Published Tuesday, December 30, 2008, by the Contra Costa Times Carpoolers want to put the brakes on bridge toll plan By Janis Mara Staff Writer BERKELEY --
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 30, 2008
      Published Tuesday, December 30, 2008, by the Contra Costa Times

      Carpoolers want to put the brakes on bridge toll plan

      By Janis Mara
      Staff Writer

      BERKELEY -- News that Bay Area car-pool drivers could have to pay a
      bridge toll set off a storm of indignation among car-pool riders near
      the North Berkeley BART station this week.

      "It's the worst idea I ever heard," said Charles Ruppert. Like others
      standing at a gathering spot on Sacramento Street, Ruppert was waiting
      for a random driver to take him to San Francisco via the HOV lane,
      enabling both to avoid paying to cross the Bay Bridge.

      "Once you start assessing a fee, it probably will create a backlash
      of single-occupancy vehicles," said Rolf Williams of Berkeley. "Not
      everyone does this out of concern for the environment. Many do it
      to save money and time, and if they can't, they will stop."

      Bridge operators advanced the idea Dec. 17 as a way to help raise
      $950 million to strengthen the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges against
      earthquakes. Tolls on seven state bridges would go up to $5 per car
      and carpool drivers would be charged a discounted toll, possibly $3.

      The operators proposed issuing carpool drivers transponders, such as
      the ones used for FasTrak lanes, allowing them to zip quickly through
      the HOV lanes. Currently, Bay Area carpoolers save $4 per trip by
      avoiding the toll, and they bypass the backup at the Bay Bridge and
      other bridges.

      Some commuters were dubious.

      "You have to slow down to go through the FasTrak lanes. They're narrow
      chutes," said Adam Dawson, of Berkeley. Five days a week, for the past
      20 years, Dawson has walked eight blocks to the casual car-pool spot
      on Sacramento Street.

      "It's the time and the convenience, not the money" that draws him to
      carpooling, the San Francisco attorney said. "If you do that (charge
      car-pool drivers for a toll), you should allow people to car pool on
      Saturday nights and other times when it's prohibited," Dawson said.

      "The bridge is most crowded over the weekend and this would help make
      up for having to pay."

      Carpool passengers were not the only ones concerned.

      "It's hard to hold a car pool together," said David Rolley, of Suisun,
      an accounting technician who ferries six co-workers from the Suisun
      area to Martinez, crossing the Benicia Bridge. "People give up the
      freedom of having their cars. As it is, I loan my car to my fellow
      carpoolers if they have to go pick up lunch or to a doctor's
      appointment," Rolley said.

      "When gas was $4 a gallon, saving money on gas and avoiding the
      bridge toll were the main reasons for us forming the car pool.

      "Now gas is cheaper, and if they are going to have to chip in to pay
      for the bridge, I'm afraid they are going to say, 'I might as well
      drive my own car.'"

      Back in Berkeley, casual carpooler Kirsten Lindquist said she would
      be willing to pitch in money to pay a toll. "I just hope it doesn't
      dissuade people from carpooling."

      One regional agency remains interested in preserving the financial
      incentive to share a car.

      "We like carpooling as a means of reducing congestion," said John
      Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's
      planning organization for roads and transit. "If there is a car-pool
      toll option, we're very much interested in preserving the financial
      incentive and the time incentive."

      Goodwin said that after Bay Area bridge tolls were standardized at
      $1 in 1989, carpoolers were saving $1 per trip. Now they save $4, he
      said.

      The Bay Area Toll Authority is considering three approaches to
      generating the money for the earthquake retrofits.

      * Truck and auto tolls would increase by $1 per vehicle, and car pools
      would pay $3.

      * Trucks would pay $3 per axle and car pools $2.

      * Trucks would pay $5 per axle but rush-hour car pools would remain
      free.

      Goodwin cited three reasons for the proposed increase: the seismic
      improvements needed for the two bridges, a decline in bridge traffic
      and toll revenue and the tight credit market.

      Not everyone opposed the idea.

      If the plan involves FasTrak devices, casual car-pool driver Randy
      Shaw, of Berkeley, said, "I'm not opposed to it, if it's done that
      way."

      But Joe Caldarola, of Berkeley, spoke for the majority when he said,
      "It's a bad idea. Right now, BART can't handle peak demand, and this
      (car pooling) offers an alternative.

      "They're trying to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs."


      Reach Janis Mara at 925-952-2671 or jmara@...
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