baybridge.jpgWait times at Bay Area bridge toll plazas have gone down since new toll hikes went into effect on July 1, but the number of people carpooling has also decreased, a Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman said today.

Auto tolls increased by a dollar to $5 on six bridges in the region, while a congestion pricing program was implemented at the Bay Bridge, where commuters pay $6 from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, $5 all day Saturdays and Sundays, and $4 during weekday off-peak hours.

In addition, a carpool toll of $2.50 was introduced for the first time on the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges. 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.

MTC spokesman John Goodwin said transportation officials studied the delay times between the University Avenue on-ramp in Berkeley and the metering lights at the Bay Bridge during the peak morning rush hour. They found delays had dropped from 19 minutes to 10 minutes.

The new carpool toll also appears to be affecting the number of carpoolers crossing Bay Area bridges. After the toll hike, there were 12,126 fewer carpoolers on the seven bridges during a 12-day period earlier this month compared to a similar period last year. That figure represented a 30.3 percent decrease compared to mid-July 2009.

Goodwin said the drop could be due to a number of factors, including the toll hike. He said other factors could be that some carpoolers do not yet have FasTrak or that the time savings of using the carpool lane are not as great as they were before.

He said, though, the biggest factor might simply be the economic climate in which fewer people are working than in July 2009.

“Even before July 1 we had seen a year-over-year decline in carpool traffic,” Goodwin said.
However, since the new toll prices have only been in effect for a few weeks, “It’s way too early to draw any meaningful conclusions from this data,” he said.

Some of the bridge traffic could be making its way to BART trains, which have seen an increase in riders since July 1.

BART officials found during a weeklong study earlier this month that there are about 1,500 more riders than in July 2009 between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. on weekdays. Overall ridership has also increased by about 4,500 people daily compared to last year, spokesman Jim Allison said.

Like Goodwin, Allison said it’s still too early to say whether the increase is due to the new tolls or other factors, such as the AC Transit labor dispute that has caused delays throughout that system.

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