FasTrak sales soared in the days leading up to the Bay Bridge’s July 1 toll increase, but it remains to be seen if the transponders have played a role in reducing congestion on the busy span.
Over 11,500 new FasTrak accounts were opened during the week of June 28, a total that represents a 111 percent increase from the week prior, and a 415 percent increase from the first week in May. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional planning body, credits a promotional campaign in which Bay Area motorists received as much as $10 off FasTrak prices and extensive outreach efforts for the spike in transponder purchases.
On July 1, Bay Bridge tolls increased from $4 to $6 during peak travel times in the morning and evening, a price hike designed to ease congestion on the span. FasTrak, which allows motorists to pass through toll plazas without stopping, was also introduced to help reduce wait times on the Bay Bridge, which carries nearly 300,000 cars each day.
Despite the sudden rise in FasTrak sales, the MTC, which manages seven local spans (not including the Golden Gate Bridge), said that it is too early to tell if the technology is playing any role in aiding the effectiveness of the Bay Bridge’s new congestion-based tolls.
“For years, we’ve seen declining toll bridge traffic,” MTC spokesman Jeff Goodwin said. “But we’ve seen nothing in the last two weeks that has further affected that longer, overall trend.”
Recent traveling anomalies, such as the Fourth of July weekend, and the ongoing slow economic recovery also make it difficult to ascertain the effects of the increased FasTrak rates, Goodwin said.
As part of its resolution to increase toll costs on the Bay Bridge, the MTC and its subsidiary, the Bay Area Toll Authority, is required to review congestion levels on the span. A full report of the toll’s effect is due next year.
Along with the congestion pricing plan on the Bay Bridge, the six other local spans managed by the MTC increased their tolls from $4 to $5 on July 1. All seven spans implemented a $2.50 toll for carpoolers, who previously crossed for free. To qualify for the carpool discount, motorists must purchase a FasTrak transponder. Illegally crossing through the FasTrak toll plaza is a $25 fine, although motorists can waive that fee by purchasing a FasTrak device within 30 days.
The Golden Gate Bridge, which is managed by a separate district, also implemented a carpool toll on July 1. That fee is $3, and like the MTC bridges, carpoolers must purchase a FasTrak device to qualify.
Selling like hotcakes
FasTrak sales jumped 415 percent since May, likely due to Bay Bridge toll hikes that went into effect July 1. Numbers are the number of passes sold during the given week.
April 26: 2,231
May 3: 2,233
May 10: 2,106
May 17: 2,670
May 24: 2,655
May 31: 2,952
June 7: 4,009
June 14: 4,229
June 21: 5,449
June 28: 11,501
July 4: 8,929