Carpoolers oppose plan for HOVs to pay bridge tolls too
- Published Tuesday, December 30, 2008, by the Contra Costa Times
Carpoolers want to put the brakes on bridge toll plan
By Janis Mara
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
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
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
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
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@...