Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Bay Area Toll Authority, otherwise known as BATA, is currently weighing a toll increase for all bridges in the SF Bay Area, purportedly for seizmic retrofitting and to make up a shortfall in revenue due to, according to this article, decreased ridership and increased operating expenses. They also reference to the fact that the bond markets have done poorly in the past couple of years.

Well, duh!

As a participant of casual carpool, I am especially concerned about one component of the proposed toll hikes: A new, $3 toll for carpool ridership. The carpool lane is currently free and we all know the benefits of that.

I wrote a letter to BATA last night and I thought I'd share it. If anyone else participates in casual carpool, I'd encourage you to do the same:

From: William Swan
Date: Sat, Nov 7, 2009 at 11:08 PM
Subject: Objection to proposed $3 toll for carpool lanes
To: tolls@mtc.ca.gov


Dear Bay Area Toll Authority:

I am writing to express my strong objection over the proposed $3 toll for carpool drivers as a component of BATA’s toll increase consideration for 2010. At best, the inherent logic in doing so is flawed. BATA states that among the chief reasons for the need to raise an additional $160 million in annual revenues is due to a “steady decline in toll-paying traffic on state owned bridges during each of the past five years.” Isn’t that the point of a carpool lane, to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions?

I am an avid participant in the “ad hoc” or “casual carpool” program, and it is my view that the $3 toll proposal for carpool lanes would in effect kill this arrangement, one that has been in existence for over 30 years and works well for many people of limited and fixed incomes across the Bay Area. It works well now because no transaction takes place, and both riders and drivers benefit. But I believe a $3 toll in the carpool lane would create an insurmountable logistical hurdle to this arrangement. Certainly the carpool ridership would decrease, and I wonder how close such a shortfall would get to offsetting any potential gain in charging the $3 toll for carpoolers in the first place? Further to the point: It certainly doesn’t look good in a state that constantly wrestles with smog.

The factors likely at play here: rising unemployment, fluctuating gas prices, poor investment on the part of the toll authority, make it even more objectionable that the ultimate decision of BATA to raise tolls would be done unilaterally, without being placed on a ballot. It used to be that proposed toll increases were put before voters. Perhaps something was buried in the fine print in one of those propositions so that public accountability is no longer required now?

Among the other reasons cited by BATA for the revenue shortfall is one that is sure to raise a few eyebrows: “Increasing operational expenses and rising debt, due in part to the upheaval in the municipal bond markets over the past two years.” It is not the carpool riders’ fault that the bond markets have tanked. Perhaps you can have a conversation with the Federal Department of Transportation if you really need a bailout.

BATA needs to step back and think more clearly about what is the greater good here. And charging carpool riders is counterintuitive at best, downright lunacy at worst.

With trepidation,

Bill Swan
Oakland, CA