A key transportation committee is considering raising tolls by at least $1 on the Bay Area's seven state-owned bridges next year, but the proposal doesn't seem to be generating much controversy as only five people spoke at a public hearing on the subject Wednesday.
Staff members of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Bay Area Toll Authority Oversight Committee said the proposed increase is needed to raise an additional $160 million in annual revenues to help finance the estimated $750 million cost of seismic retrofit projects on the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges.
The extra money would also offset higher borrowing costs caused by the upheaval in the bond markets the past two years and address a five-year decline in toll-paying traffic on the bridges.
The Bay Area Toll Authority, which administers tolls on the region's state-owned bridges, is considering three proposals, two of which would impose charges on carpoolers for the first time since the 1970s.
Under Option 1, tolls would increase from $4 to $5 for two-axle vehicles such as cars and motorcycles and there would be a $6 charge for each additional axle for trucks.
There also would be a $3 charge for carpools during peak periods on weekdays, which would represent the seismic retrofit portion of toll charges. Carpools would be required to get a FasTrak toll tag to qualify for the reduced rate and FasTrak equipment would be required in all carpool lanes.
Under Option 2, there would be a $5 toll for cars and motorcycles and a charge of $10 per each additional axle for trucks. But there would be no charge for carpools during peak periods.
Option 3 would be the same as Option 1 for all bridges except the Bay Bridge, where congestion pricing would be introduced.
The proposed charge for cars and motorcycles would be $6 during peak weekday periods and $4 during off-peak periods during the week as well as a $5 charge on weekends.
There would be a $6 charge for each additional axle for trucks at all times. And there also would be a $3 charge for carpools during peak periods.
Alan Osofsky, a manager at Rodgers Trucking Co. in San Leandro, told the committee today that he agrees that truckers need to pay higher tolls but he said the proposed increases would be "over-burdening on the trucking industry" at a time when the economy is weak and business is down significantly.
Osofsky said congestion pricing "is not fair to truckers" because truckers need to cross bridges when their customers ask them do so and don't have the luxury of waiting until off-peak periods.
But Carli Paine of the Oakland-based transit advocacy group TransForm said commercial trucks should pay higher fees because they bear more weight, emit more pollution and have more impact on the bridges than do personal vehicles.
Paine said TransForm generally supports the concept of congestion pricing but "it does not make sense to put a toll on carpools" at a time when the region is trying to reduce congestion and meet greenhouse gas targets.
MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger told the committee that he thinks it's time to consider imposing a fee on carpoolers because the Bay Area is the only place in the nation where carpoolers can cross major bridges for free.
As for the concept of congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge, Heminger said, "It's uncharted territory for our region. We recommend that you try it for a limited time and see how it goes."
He said congestion pricing has been implemented in London but the system was so effective in getting fewer people to use their cars that officials collected less revenue than they had expected.
Several committee members said they support congestion pricing, including Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Jake Mackenzie, who represents Sonoma County.
Mackenzie said, "I'm an Option 3 guy" and he supports increasing tolls to as high as $10 during peak periods, even though he said, "I've taken some flack" over the idea.
Wednesday's public hearing at the Joseph Bort MetroCenter in Oakland, which was the first on the toll hike proposal, will be followed by hearings at the San Mateo City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 17 and at the Concord Senior Center at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 3.
The committee is expected to vote on the proposal in January. If a toll hike is approved, it's anticipated that it will take effect next July 1.
The toll proposal does not affect the Golden Gate Bridge, which is
owned and operated by an independent authority.