Bay Bridge toll hike deters drivers

More drivers are saying fare-well to crossing the Bay Bridge between the busiest weekday morning hours due to a $2 toll increase, traffic data show.

On July 1, the toll for noncarpool drivers between 5 and 10 a.m. and also between 3 and 7 p.m. increased from $4 to $6.
To avoid paying the fare, more drivers are crossing before or after those time periods than last year, freeing up some of the gridlock during the morning commute, a new Bay Area Toll Authority study said.

Other commuters are ditching their cars for BART, which has seen a ridership uptick since the toll increase, while some of the more thrifty drivers have been pulling off to the shoulder of the toll plaza just before 10 a.m. and waiting for the price to switch to $4, the study said.

The California Highway Patrol has been handing out verbal warning and citations to those shoulder huggers, CHP Officer Sam Morgan said.

The new study compared the weekday commute across the bridge between Sept. 13 and Sept. 24 with the same period last year.

This year, hundreds more cars crossed the bridge daily between the hours of 4 and 5 a.m. and 10 and 11 a.m., the data revealed. Meanwhile, hundreds less crossed between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., it showed.

Also, the average commute from where Interstate 80 intersects with University Avenue in Berkeley to the toll plaza has been reduced from 27 minutes to 24 minutes during the peak morning hours, the study said.

Overall traffic on the bridge saw a slight drop in September — from 127,931 daily trips to 126,532 daily trips, the data said.

The traffic across the Bay Bridge has been “slowly and steadily” dropping each year since 2003, partly due to toll increases, spokesman John Goodwin said.

The decrease in traffic, however, has not impacted all commuters. Ali Gul, a 24-year-old from El Cerrito who works in The City, said “the commute is about the same to me.” He said that he understands why fewer people would want to drive when the toll went up, but that he actually started using the casual carpool when BART prices increased.

Prices for commuters have increased for drivers, too. In 2004, the base toll went from $2 to $3. In 2007, it rose again to $4.
The loss of jobs in a declining economy has also contributed to the traffic decrease, among “a lot of other factors,” Goodwin said.

The latest increase was part of a series of toll increases implemented July 1. The extra revenue is projected to raise $165 million for regional infrastructure projects. That goal remained on target, according to the September study.

July 1 also brought a $2.50 charge for carpooling, which used to be free. Since then, about 4,169 fewer vehicles use the Bay Bridge carpool lanes daily, according to the study.

Meanwhile, about 1,147 more non-carpoolers drive the Bay Bridge daily, the study said.

Cost to cross Bay Bridge

$6: 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday
$4: Monday-Sunday (except for time periods indicated above)
$2.50: 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. carpools Monday-Friday
$5: All other state-owned bridges

Source: Bay Area Toll Authority

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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