Bay Area transportation agencies are anticipating that toll increases that go into effect Thursday on the region’s seven state-owned bridges will alter commuters’ driving habits or prompt a move toward public transit options.
Starting Thursday, auto tolls on the Bay Bridge will be $4 during weekday off-peak hours, $5 all day Saturdays and Sundays, and $6 from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, according to Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler.
The regular auto toll will also rise to $5 at all times on the Antioch, Benicia-Martinez, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond-San Rafael and San Mateo-Hayward bridges.
In addition, a carpool toll of $2.50 will be introduced for the first time. The discounted toll for carpool vehicles will be in effect from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and it must be paid with a FasTrak transponder.
The increases will go into effect at midnight, Rentschler said.
He said models estimate there will be a 17 to 20 percent decrease in the average wait times at the toll plaza during peak hours, but, “We’re just going to find out when it happens,” he said.
The rollout of the toll hikes was chosen to precede the Fourth of July holiday weekend, when traffic is expected to be lighter with most schools not in session and many people on vacations from work, Rentschler said.
“The idea was to try to get this implemented in a way that we’re not taking on the teeth of the Bay Area traffic with a big change,” he said.
Rentschler said there have been complaints about the increase in toll prices, which were implemented in part to address seismic safety on the bridges.
“We weren’t looking forward to raising the tolls, and I don’t think a lot of people are looking forward to the raising the tolls,” he said. “But if you do what we do for a living, you’re forced to try to do something about congestion or accept it, and we’re trying to do something about it.”
The $6 toll on the Bay Bridge during peak hours is part of a congestion pricing plan that is the first of its kind on Bay Area roads, but it is quite common in other aspects of life, Rentschler said.
“At a Giants game, a hotel, and on and on, people experience this pricing reality every day in their lives. It’s just the first time it’s been applied to traffic on the freeways,” he said.
He said some people could choose to make appointments in San Francisco during non-peak hours or choose other transit options such as BART or buses and ferries that travel into the city.
“Collectively, with all these things we’ll see some evidence of less traffic,” he said.
BART officials are anticipating an increase in passengers on trains when the tolls go up Thursday, spokesman Jim Allison said.
“We certainly hope there’s an uptick in ridership,” Allison said, saying the agency is not making any changes to its service to handle more passengers except to “just do our best to keep the trains on time.”
He said BART has particularly been reaching out to carpoolers, who are facing the prospect of paying a toll on the bridge for the first time.
BART employees went out to casual carpool sites around the East Bay this morning to encourage people to use the trains.
“We’d rather see them get to where they’re going on time and do something eco-friendly than have to pay the tolls now,” he said.
Bay Area drivers are encouraged to pay bridge tolls with FasTrak passes, which are available at many local Walgreens, Safeway and Costco stores. New customers who buy a FasTrak at a participating retailer through July 15 can get up to $10 in free tolls.
For more information, visit www.bayareafastrak.org or call 511.