Golden Gate Bridge bike/ped toll moves forward

As the Marin IJ reported, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District (GGBHTD) has decided to push forward with studying the cycling and walking toll on the bridge.

The vote was very close, 10-9 in favor. All but one of San Francisco’s representatives, John Moylan (who represents San Francisco’s mayor), voted against studying the toll. All but one of the northern representatives, Marin supervisor Kate Sears, voted for studying the toll. This includes Marin supervisor Judy Arnold and Tiburon mayor Alice Fredericks.

Most of the arguments for the toll, as relayed by people covering the meeting on Twitter, were more that it was important to examine it regardless of whether it’s a good idea, not that the toll itself would yield any non-financial benefits.

One observer on Twitter, John Murphy of Healdsburg, made the point that the toll could have a number of unintended consequences, mostly around trailheads. By email, he argued that recreational cyclists consider the ride from San Francisco to West Marin “junk miles.” A toll would be just one more reason to drive to Marin on weekends, exacerbating tourist traffic on Shoreline Highway and parking around trailheads.

He further made the point that tourist cyclists already often pay into GGBHTD’s pot by taking the Sausalito Ferry back to the City after riding across the bridge. Without Clipper cards, these riders pay the full cash price.

What the old studies said

According to commentary from MCBC on the 2005 proposal (the report itself isn’t available online), the proposed toll would raise somewhere between $600,000 and $1.8 million in 2014 dollars, or roughly between 9 and 27 percent of the five-year shortfall.

Unfortunately, the 1998 report indicated there would be no way to charge the toll except with in-person toll-takers, which would cut significantly into the revenue and cause huge lines to enter the bridge. Murphy, the Healdsburg commentator, pointed out that this would force people to spend more time parked, exacerbating the significant parking crunch.

One more alternative

There is another way to target tourist traffic, of course, one that would target tourists exclusively. Rather than charge people for the opportunity to walk across the bridge, GGBHTD should charge for the opportunity to park at either parking lot, and allow tour bus companies to reserve bus parking spaces for a flat fee. This is part of the strategic financial plan, under item 21.

Already, tourist traffic at the lots can cause backups onto the bridge; charging an appropriate amount for parking would reduce that congestion problem and raise money simultaneously. It would target tourists exclusively and wouldn’t require much more infrastructure than parking meters. It’s an idea that deserves study, rather than one more look at a bike/ped toll.

For now, the toll is not a done deal; it is only being studied. To ensure it doesn’t, write to your representatives who voted for the toll. Let them know there are better ways to raise money.


Del Norte

Board of Supervisors appointee Gerald D. Cochran


Supervisor Judy Arnold
Marin cities’ appointee Tiburon Mayor Alice Fredericks
Board of Supervisors appointee J. Dietrich Stroeh, GGBHTD Second Vice President


Board of Supervisors appointee James C. Eddie, GGBHTD Board President


Board of Supervisors appointee Barbara L. Pahre

San Francisco

Mayor’s appointee John J. Moylan


Sonoma cities’ appointee Rohnert Park Councilmember Gina Belforte
Supervisor David A. Rabbitt
Board of Supervisors appointee Brian M. Sobel



Supervisor Kate Sears

San Francisco

Supervisor London Breed
Supervisor David Campos
Board of Supervisors appointee Dick Grosboll
Board of Supervisors appointee Janet Reilly
Board of Supervisors appointee Dave Snyder
Board of Supervisors appointee Michael Therieault
Supervisor Scott Weiner
Supervisor Norman Yee

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.

9 Responses to Golden Gate Bridge bike/ped toll moves forward

  1. John Murphy says:

    There is a lot about 50 yards downhill from the primary GGB parking lot on the South end, that is not metered at all. I don’t know if the bridge district owns it, but it is primarily used as a jumping off point for long bike rides from what I can see. It should probably be metered – especially since they went through the trouble a few years back of changing it from a dirt lot to a paved one.

    This wouldn’t really target tourists unless they added some signage to send tourists to the lot – which is perhaps why it’s not metered. My guess is that tourists primarily enter the lot from US-101, and never see this “secret lot”

  2. Stephen N says:

    As I said in the last post on Bridge Tolls for Bikes, I agree with you that this is not a good idea. Essentially it is another tax to plunder the citizens. The golden gate was always meant for transportation and not a means to feed tax dollars to the state. I feel the same way about congestion pricing, VMT and variable parking tolls which some see as a way to engineer the city of their dreams. Surely, if motorists should be subject to this scheme, so should cyclists

    This political exercise is illustrative of the inherent unfairness of a regional government or Joint Powers Authority in shaping local policy. It is not surprising that the further the politician is away from the bridge, the more the idea of a bridge toll is appealing. It won’t affect their constituents and it is only “capturing revenue” lost by freeloading walkers and cyclists. There is a certain logic to this argument.

    I sympathize with the cyclists but I find the policy of tolls totally consistent with all of the traffic management policies of Smart Growth. Welcome to your world.

  3. John Murphy says:

    Stephen – you’re off on a few points.

    There is no logic to the argument of “capturing revenue” lost by freeloading walkers and cyclists, primarily because implementing this would “capture negative revenue”. Some of the problems that would make this a net money loser are obvious – the cost of collecting the toll would be expensive, it would require three points of collection, one of them 24/7 (paying a toll taker at 2 AM who almost never collects a toll). Then there are esoteric costs like jamups on the bridge at the parking lots, lost revenue at bridge concessions, etc… We can’t even neglect the fact that adding some random person collecting large amounts of cash would be very prone to leakage/fraud.

    Then there is the responsibility of the bridge to do things that might cost the bridge money but create a positive financial impact for the region – the negative PR to the SF/Southern Marin tourist industries of the toll, or even the lost tourist revenue from the time the tourists are spending in line waiting to pay their toll and get change.

    The subjecting of motorists to these “schemes” has a measurable positive impact. Bridge drivers complain about the subsidy to the buses and ferries and state that the ferries and buses should be self sustaining if people want those choices. But without the buses and ferries drivers would save a couple bucks per trip on the toll but spend an extra hour per day in traffic. My time is worth a lot more than that.

    The further away from the bridge, the less these hacks understand the problems. It’s a shame that the issue was framed about equity and encouraging good transportation habits, and not simply that charging a bridge toll would cost us cold hard cash.

    • stephen nestel says:

      I was channeling the logic of the bridge district. I disagree with the tax but believe it will bring in positive revenue. By my guess , at least 3/4 of the visitors or tourists. It would be seen as another tourist amusement and it would be an easy revenue source.

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  5. gneiss says:

    stephen – given that toll collectors (remember, there are two approaches to the bridge on weekends) will need to be monitoring the bridge 24/7, it is highly unlikely that this scheme will bring any positive net revenue to the bridge authority unless they charge an unreasonable amount of money (say $2 per person) to cross by walking or biking.

    Also, there’s the question of fairness. How much wear and tear on the bridge do people walking and riding bicycles actually cause to it? The amount of maintenance required by the bridge district for those areas is orders of magnitude less than for cars, which means if you start charging those users $1 vs. $7 per car, you are in effect subsidizing car drivers use of the bridge by people walking and riding bikes who are causing a far less per capita wear and tear than cars are.

    And finally, as a resident of San Francisco, I hardly view the bridge as a “tourist amusement”. To me and many of my friends who live in the city, it is infrastructure. No different from the roads that carry you to the supermarket or to your job. To suggest otherwise, is to ignore the very real and significant contingent of people who use the bridge to access jobs in both San Francisco and Marin by bicycle. And as Mr. Murphy has pointed out, people will make the economic calculation to drive across the bridge rather than ride it, increasing congestion rather than decreasing it, which is not in the bridge authority’s interest.

    • Woofwoof2 says:

      Not so fast. just because the bicycle has skinny wheels, that doesn’t mean that bike lanes are free of expense. It is amazing how entitled cyclists are when it comes to spending money creating laws for their own benefit. What do you think you should contribute?

    • Franz Listen says:

      I don’t support a bike/ped toll but, in fairness, having the bridge open to bicycles and pedestrians does impose some costs. There are security costs that would not be there if the bridge were only open to vehicles. There’s sometimes minor damage to the bridge caused by graffit, etc.

      Moreover, bicyclists and pedestrians do benefit from the expensive seismic retrofit project, as well as certain maintenance work. Keeping the bridge a nice orange and preventing it from falling into the ocean helps more than just cars.

      If we’re talking about damage to the road bed, then yes, cars do much more than bikes or peds. However, a single truck can produce the equivalent damage of about 1,000 cars. Some studies suggest its more like 10,000 cars. Trucks do most of the damage to the road bed but contribute proportionally little in revenue. In effect, your toll provides a little subsidy to the trucking industry.

      Rather than this issue being a predictable bike vs. car debate (which is a bit of a proxy for Marin’s smart growth wars), both cyclists and motorists should question why the GGBHTD has a projected $210M, ten-year deficit in the first place!

      Part of it is related to the need to contribute to Doyle Drive. Part of it is related to the ongoing seismic retrofit project. However, it can also be attributed to the very high structural costs of GGT’s bus operation. While it would be possible for GGT to contract for service at $100 fully loaded, the District’s services costs well over $130 given its very high labor costs and overhead. It is the least labor efficient bus operator in the Bay Area according to MTC.

      Marin Transit was been politically forced to use GGT to provide local services at the extreme rate of $130+ per hour, but got a reprieve in 2012 and now only has to pay $120 per hour. This means the GGT is now being subsidized a little less by Marin County’s Measure A. If Marin Transit were to liberate itself completely from GGT and contract with a private vendor @ $100 per hour (as it wishes to do) the Bridge District would take a bigger hit.

      However, if the Bridge District itself were to run its services at a contracted market rate, we wouldn’t be having this current debate. We pay $90M per year for bus service. Imagine if it were run 20-30% cheaper? Project that out over 10 years. Bye-bye deficit. That would mean taking on public sector labor unions, however. Really think 9 politicians from SF will want to do that? Sadly, in the political pecking order, bicyclists, motorists and bus riders are all outranked by a stronger special interest.

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