(Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo)

Golden Gate Bridge tolls on the rise

Fares also set to increase Wednesday on Golden Gate Transit ferries and buses

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into the City will get a little pricier starting Wednesday, despite the economic damage in the Bay Area leveled by the coronavirus.

Golden Gate Bridge tolls for southbound FasTrak drivers will increase from $7.35 to $7.70. Non-FasTrak drivers who have registered as “pay-as-you-go” by filing their license plates with the agency and one-time ratepayers who pay the toll in advance or within 48 hours will see an increase from $8.20 to $8.40.

Everyone else will owe $8.70.

“We definitely recognize we’re in an unprecedented economic crisis in addition to the global health pandemic, and we recognize we’ve seen record unemployment and vast economic hardship,” said Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, a Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District spokesman. “Our mission and our purpose is to provide that transit service, especially for essential workers, and the toll and transit fare programs are so that we can continue providing that service.”

The increases are part of a five-year plan approved by the district’s Board of Directors last March. Expected to raise $100 million, the toll bump is intended to balance a nearly $75 million projected budget shortfall.

Toll hikes will continue incrementally through 2023, reaching $8.75 for FasTrak users, $9 for “pay-as-you-go” and one-time drivers and $9.75 for all others.

Funds generated from the tolls will cover maintenance, capital projects and transit operations, according to Cosulich-Schwartz. Money from the bridge toll also goes to subsidizing bus and ferry service, facilitating the discounts for lower income riders, he said.

Fares will also increase July 1 on many of the district’s bus and ferry routes, part of a separate five-year transit fare program approved in 2017. The plan was expected to address a then-$51 million deficit caused by lower revenues, rising employee pensions and health care costs and the bridge’s retrofitting project.

Most Larkspur, Sausalito and Tiburon ferry riders will pay an additional 50 cents for every trip while most bus riders will face an increase ranging from 25 to 50 cents, with shorter routes seeing the steepest changes.

Transit fare increases do not apply to Marin Transit, which is also operated by the district, and existing discounts will continue for Clipper users, seniors, youth and anyone with disabilities.

Both the toll and transit fare increases were considered key to balancing the district’s budget and allowing it to continue providing quality service to customers before COVID-19 hit, but they’re even more acutely important now, said Cosulich-Schwartz, speaking of the dramatic impact the pandemic has had on the agency’s financial position.

Currently, Golden Gate Bridge traffic is down about 40%, and bus and ferry ridership have decreased by roughly 80% and 97% respectively, according to the district’s own data. The dramatic decline has contributed to the projected $87 million gap between anticipated revenues and expenditures for the upcoming fiscal year, which includes the toll and transit fare increases.

“Both the toll and the transit fare programs are part of our ability to reopen as ridership dictates,” Cosulich-Schwartz said. He said the district is closely monitoring how it can adjust services to keep up with evolving demand and ensure passengers — many of whom are essential workers — don’t have to get on overcrowded buses or ferries.

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