money.jpgBay Area commuters are mixing it up, with some travelers moving away from public transit even as others move towards it. The reasons — increases in fares and tolls, as well as our unemployment rate. Apparently, if you have no job, you don’t go as many places, and when you do, you don’t want to spend much to get there.

Muni rider dedication is apparently on the decline, with 10 million fewer boardings in the last fiscal year, according to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency. The estimated 591,732 boardings each day indicates a 4.4 percent drop from the previous year, a decrease which is being attributed to inconsistent service, fare increases, and unemployment rates.

This drop in use of Muni services, while expected due to the downturn of the economy, has been offset by the aforementioned fare increases. Therefore, despite fewer people riding Muni last year, they still brought in $181.2 million in fare revenue, which was about $2.5 million more than expected. “Considering the service reductions, fare increases and the national trends of other agencies around the country, we anticipated ridership to drop more than it did,” Paul Rose, Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman, said.

In other transportation-related news, Bay Bridge users are not responding positively to the $2 bridge toll increase during peak, weekday morning hours. Instated on July 1, the toll owed by non-carpool drivers between 5 and 10 a.m., as well as between 3 and 7 p.m., increased from $4 to $6.

Riders have been using multiple methods to avoid paying the fare increase. Hundreds more drivers are crossing the bridge either before or after those time periods than last year, resulting in less traffic congestion during peak hours. Former drivers have been opting to take BART, contributing to increases in ridership, while the real penny-pinchers have been pulling off the road and waiting in the shoulder of the toll plaza until just before 10 am, but not without consequence – CHP has been handing out citations and verbal warnings to those trying to save $2.

Traffic on the Bay Bridge has been steadily decreasing since 2003 thanks to toll increases, carpooling fees, and unemployment, according to John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Bay Area Toll Authority.

Incidentally, the revenue collected from the increased toll rates will actually be going towards a $30 million rebuilding of the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza’s headquarters. According to the Ex, the current building is almost 75 years old, and is a seismic safety risk due to its design and location above volatile seabed.

With the opening slated for 2012, officials say the building will be both eco-friendly and aesthetically pleasing, with its design reflecting the bridge’s new eastern span.

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