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GG Bridge eyes $3 carpool toll, multi-axle vehicle toll hike

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  • 2/10 SF Chronicle
    Published Wednesday, February 10, 2010, by the San Francisco Chronicle Golden Gate Bridge may charge for carpools By Michael Cabanatuan Chronicle Staff Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 10, 2010
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      Published Wednesday, February 10, 2010, by the San Francisco Chronicle

      Golden Gate Bridge may charge for carpools

      By Michael Cabanatuan
      Chronicle Staff Writer

      All the other Bay Area bridges are doing it, so Golden Gate Bridge officials want to charge a toll for carpools to cross their span.

      The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District will consider charging $3 for three-person carpools that travel south across the bridge between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The toll represents a half-price discount and would be collected beginning July 1.

      The district's Board of Directors will discuss the proposal Thursday at a Finance Committee meeting, then decide whether to proceed at Friday's board meeting. If they give the go-ahead, an open house would be held in April and May, followed by a May 28 meeting where the board will vote on the increase.

      At the same time, the district will consider boosting tolls for trucks and other multiple-axle vehicles to $5 per axle, with half of the increase coming in 2011 and the other half in 2012.

      If all of that sounds familiar, it should. Last month, the Bay Area Toll Authority, a regional agency that oversees the region's seven state-owned toll bridges, approved a package of toll increases that included first-ever tolls for carpools along with steep hikes for truck tolls. It also included a $1 increase -- to $5 -- for all spans but the Bay Bridge, where tolls will be $6 during commute hours, $4 at other times, and $5 on weekends.

      However, the Golden Gate is not considering another toll increase for cars, pickup trucks and other two-axle vehicles, and it won't charge congestion-based tolls. Golden Gate raised its tolls for cars to $6 for cash payers and $5 for FasTrak users in 2008.

      The new fees will help ease the $132 million deficit the district faces over the next five years. Carpool tolls were already proposed in a list of 33 actions the district should take to balance its budget.

      But with the state-owned bridges beginning to collect tolls from carpools in July, Golden Gate spokeswoman Marie Currie said the time was right.

      "It seemed like we could lessen the confusion by aligning implementation with other Bay Area bridges," she said.

      The carpool tolls are expected to generate about $1.3 million a year. The higher truck tolls should raise $600,000 in 2011 and $1.2 million in subsequent years. Motorcycles and hybrid vehicles with either the yellow or white decals allowing them to use carpool lanes will also be subject to the toll.

      All carpoolers will have to use FasTrak to get the discount, and will have to stop briefly, as they do now, at a staffed toll booth, so the toll collector can push a button assessing them the correct toll. Unlike most of the other Bay Area bridges, the Golden Gate does not have designated carpool-only toll lanes.

      Carpoolers make up 2.3 percent of Golden Gate Bridge toll payers, about 1,682 cars on an average day. At the Bay Bridge, the nation's second-busiest toll span, 10.3 percent of the drivers use carpool lanes. During the morning commute, nearly half of the drivers pass through the carpool lanes, which offer a significant time savings in addition to the free toll.

      But at the Golden Gate, said Currie, congestion all but vanished after FasTrak use was implemented in 2000, so the free ride is the biggest attraction for carpoolers, and the benefit to the district is reduced air pollution.

      "While you are contributing to the environment," Currie said to carpoolers, "you are also using the bridge, so there should be a toll to offset the use."

      E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at mcabanatuan@...
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