A fare hike, a toll freeze

Five years ago, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District (GGBHTD) considered varying bridge tolls based on demand, with higher prices during peak demand times. The concept, called congestion management or congestion pricing, didn’t go anywhere. Then-San Rafael mayor Al Boro torpedoed it, labeling the proposal an unfair “Marin commuter tax.” San Francisco was outraged, but at least they got a pioneering new parking system that varies the price of on-street parking by demand instead.

Meanwhile, GGT’s often-high fares have gone up by 5% every year on July 1. If congestion management is a “Marin commuter tax”, surely annual fare hikes well above inflation are the same thing. While the purpose is to try to keep fares in line with costs, the hikes aren’t targeted well enough to either manage congestion or improve the agency’s financial standing.

Better than blanket hikes would be targeted hikes to ferry fares and bridge tolls paired with bus service improvements. GGBHTD should use its monopoly power to maximize the infrastructure it has at its disposal.

Ferry ridership has proven to be extremely robust and can likely absorb the hikes, increasing its farebox recovery. For bridge tolls, the stretch of Highway 101 between Sir Francis Drake and Tiburon boulevards is about 800 cars over-capacity in the evenings, or roughly 2/5ths of a freeway lane. Adjusting tolls and bus service to shift some of demand to buses would open up the northbound direction. Trunk line bus service would be more reliable and less expensive to operate, and drivers would save 20 minutes of time every night.

Yet with a blanket 5% hike on regional and commute buses, GGBHTD is actually exacerbating its bus ridership problems. It shifts demand from a mode with excess capacity to one that is already over-capacity. This is not smart management but political management, and the outcome is worse service and worse traffic.

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About David Edmondson
A native Marinite working in Washington, DC, I am fascinated by how one might apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of my home.

10 Responses to A fare hike, a toll freeze

  1. Pingback: Lincoln, Nebraska — That’s Right — Is Planning a Protected Bike Lane | Streetsblog.net

  2. There’s been a similar battle going on over the Sekonnet Bridge in Rhode Island, and our blog has been following some of the problems associated with it. One of the progressive blogs, RI Future, which I generally like, posted an article where the author took the stance that tolls were a regressive tax on the poor (http://www.rifuture.org/why-the-sakonnet-river-bridge-tolls-matter.html). I borrowed a bit from a past Streetsblog post to explain why I think that’s not true (http://www.transportprovidence.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-allure-of-car-centric-populism.html). There seems to be a lively debate going on, and I hope it will help us to make better choices in the future. Thanks for taking on this issue in your neck of the woods!

  3. Pingback: Todays’ Headlines | Streetsblog San Francisco

  4. Seems to me the worst GG Bridge congestion occurs on weekends when non-residents flock to Marin’s open spaces and beaches, then head home for dinner about 4-7 pm. Congestion pricing might encourage a few to stagger their return times and make the evening ride back easier and faster for everyone else.

    • John Murphy says:

      Not a chance. I occasionally take Route 72 from Santa Rosa to SF in the AM. If I get on a bus in Santa Rosa after 6 AM, I am guaranteed to be sitting in gridlock from San Rafael to Doyle Drive – in the Carpool lane no less, the non-carpool lanes are a parking lot.

  5. 415 in 206 says:

    Ferry commuters get off work to protest fare hikes. Drivers can as well. Bus riders can’t. There was hardly a soul at the last bus fare workshops. I suggest someone who lives there should bring this up during GGTs Title VI revamp. GGT focuses on the most expensive form of service delivery possible-peak direction travel at peak times. There just isn’t enough all day bi-directional express service to compete with driving, and meanwhile GGT just ends up deadheading buses driving their costs up. Plus, they only hire full time drivers, so it is even more expensive to staff peak of the peak runs.

    • Sprague says:

      I agree with the criticism of Golden Gate Transit’s neglect of “reverse commuters” (ie. SF and Peninsula residents who work in the North Bay). Although the 101 bus route is a welcome improvement, it is ridiculous to be deadheading so many buses out of SF in the am and back into SF in the pm. Golden Gate Transit’s service along Geary Blvd. has been drastically cut over the years yet “not in service” buses continue to frequent this street during rush hours. Golden Gate Transit is barely even attempting innovation. It’s as if they’d rather operate empty, deadheaded buses than attempt to grow ridership.

      • 415 in 206 says:

        Even when I lived in the North Bay, I would have loved a late trip home from the city. The last Route 80 into the city turns around and DEADHEADS ~45 miles back to the Piner Rd base in Santa Rosa. They could at least list it as 101x (or even a 72) and let a few revelers get back to the burbs at night. Converting deadhead trips dilutes revenue ridership, and is ‘confusing’. In this day and age of smartphone wielding riders, I think the old guard of clockface paper schedules is going by the wayside. If you look at GGT psgrs per service mile, it would have to sit at the bottom of the pack. No wonder people drive across the GGB. Imagine all day half hour service on the 72. Look at service to/from Seattle to Tacoma for a slap in the face. http://www.soundtransit.org/Schedules/ST-Express-Bus/590

        • Sprague says:

          415 in 206, you make a persuasive case for better service (and greater fare/revenue generation). Perhaps ten + years ago, the last #80 bus left downtown SF at about 2 or 2:30 am. Since then, the last trip out of the city leaves 1.5-2 hours earlier. GGBHTD is ignoring potential riders and, arguably, they perhaps are encouraging drunk driving by no longer offering an affordable alternative.

  6. Pingback: A fare hike, a toll freeze « Vibrant Bay Area

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