Free bridge crossings may vanish for car pools 

Car poolers, motorcyclists and airport shuttles that currently cross the Golden Gate Bridge for free could soon be charged $3 in a move that will generate $2 million a year for the cash-strapped transit district.

The bridge is one of the last in the country to give a free pass to car poolers. Last month, the Bay Area Toll Authority approved a $2.50 charge — set to go into effect in July — for car poolers on the seven other bridges in the region. On Thursday, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District Finance Committee will vote on whether to follow suit with a car pool toll, which also would kick in July 1.

About 430,000 car pool trips are made each year, making up roughly 2 percent of the span’s total traffic. Unlike the seven state-run bridges, motorcyclists and airport shuttles are included in the Golden Gate Bridge’s car pool category for congestion purposes and also currently travel for free. The car pool toll would amount to 50 percent of the bridge’s current $6 cash toll, a rate that’s standard for similar tolls nationwide, according to bridge district spokeswoman Mary Curry.

“At $3, we think it’s still a good deal to cross the bridge for car poolers,” Curry said. “There is still incentive to drive with others and cut down on congestion.”

The Golden Gate Bridge does not have a dedicated car pool lane. Under the new proposal, a car pool driver would have to buy a FasTrak transponder and stop at a manned toll booth to confirm the number of people in the vehicle. The mandatory FasTrak purchase is part of the district’s goal to implement all-electronic tolling by 2012.

Mark Ubungen, a 21-year-old student at the Academy of Art University and member of the Bay Area’s informal “Casual Car pooler” network, was blunt in his assessment of the new toll proposal.

“It sucks,” Ubungen said. “These are tough times now ... and prices are already going up for things like parking. This is just one more inconvenience to deal with.”

Along with the car pool toll, the bridge district also is proposing rate increases for multiaxle trucks. Those toll hikes wouldn’t take effect until July 2011, and they would mirror similar proposals that were approved on the seven other Bay Area bridges.

Combined, the toll changes would bring in about $2 million a year for the bridge district, which is facing a five-year projected shortfall of
$132 million due in large part to dwindling traffic numbers and the loss of state funding.

The car pool toll is part of a series of revenue-generating and cost-saving proposals the bridge district is considering to offset its shortfall. Others include an experiential tourism exhibit, all-electronic tolling and $1 toll increase that could come around 2013.

If the Finance Committee approves the toll proposal Thursday, the bridge district’s full board will vote on final authorization Friday.


Crossing the Gate

$0 Current charge for car poolers on Golden Gate Bridge (vehicles with three occupants, airport shuttles, motorcyclists)
$3 Proposed car pool toll
$6 Current cash toll
$5 Current toll with FasTrak
$2 million Annual revenue from car pool and truck toll increases
$132 million Current five-year projected shortfall for Golden Gate Bridge district
432,872 Annual car pool trips on Golden Gate Bridge
2.3 Car pools’ percent of total bridge traffic

Source: Golden Gate Bridge district

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Will Reisman

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