tlonbart.jpgCommuters to and from the East Bay are bracing themselves for one of the biggest and most confusing Bay Bridge toll increases ever.

Starting July 1, carpools (which must use the FasTrak toll tag) are now $2.50 instead of free, and for regular traffic it’s $6 for the Bay Bridge during “peak” hours of 5-10 AM and 3-7 PM, $5 on weekends, and $4 during off-peak hours.

The new pricing structure is complex, and apparently aimed at encouraging drivers to free up the lanes during rush hour AND to generate funds for construction of earthquake safety measures. But will the real unintended consequence of this spike be a spike in BART ridership?

For many commuters with a 9 AM office start-time, waking up before dawn to skip peak toll hours and save a few bucks is unrealistic. Scott E. of Berkeley comments “With the increase of tolls, I would prefer to take BART even though it takes longer and is less convenient for me. Otherwise I’d try to find some other people to carpool with, but that comes with its own drawbacks too.”

Greg P. of Oakland agrees: “I wish they would have just made the bike pathway go all the way across the bridge instead of stopping at Treasure Island. I think a lot of people would consider just riding their bike and not pay tolls at all.” Maybe one day, Greg.

We did a little math to compare the price of BART vs the Bridge for a typical East Bay commute. A car drives about 13 miles from the MacArthur station in Oakland to Civic Center. During rush hour the toll is $2.50 if you use FasTrak to carpool ($6 if you don’t!) and uses about $1.60 of gas to get into the city for an average of grand total of around $7.15. Of course this does not include wear and tear, parking, emotional distress while yelling in traffic, etc.

Taking BART from MacArthur to Civic Center costs $3.30, for a $6.60 round trip. For a single person, it is now definitely cheaper to ride BART, and the cheapest among us can just take BART when traveling into the city and try to swindle a ride when East Bay, the direction with which drivers do not face tolls.

BART, for their part, is ready for an increase in ridership, but they don’t have much of an idea what that increase might be. When asked if BART anticipated a jump in ridership after the new tolls go into effect, BART spokesperson Linton Johnson said “yes, but we don’t know by how much.”

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