Thursday July 1 – This is it – ‘For Whom the Toll Dwells’


Toll Day is here. I arrive at the Vallejo carpool line to see 10 cars lined up waiting for rides, and I’m the only rider. My ride is the front seat of a big Chrysler 300 Sedan. A lady passenger is in the back seat and the driver is a mellow guy in a t-shirt. I ask “Do you have your toll box ready?” “Uh, no not yet,” he replies a little groggily. I ask him if he drove car pool last night. “No, this is my first day back at work. We just had a baby.” That explains the ‘groggy’ response. We talk about the wonder and exhaustion of newborns. He’s pretty overwhelmed by it all – his first child.

I am still recovering from last night’s commute. I thought I’d ride one last time in the toll-free carpool line so at about 5 p.m. last evening I took Muni down Market and walked down Beale Street to Howard where the carpool lines congregate. There’s half a dozen pick up spots there for Oakland, Richmond, Hercules, Fairfield, North Berkeley, all clearly marked with signs. The Vallejo line is always the longest, and last night was no exception – 60 or 70 people waiting for a ride. I noticed that the traffic on Beale was getting really heavy – almost to the point of gridlock – and then found out that a couple of things had happened. First, there was a Giants game, which always fouls up the evening departing traffic, and then there was a suicide attempt at the Embarcadero BART station, which further aggravated the traffic. Apparently both BART and Muni service were stalled for awhile. It got pretty crazy and we wound up waiting well over an hour. I got a ride with 2 other passengers at about 6:15 and we realized we could never make the toll gate at the Carquinez Bridge before 7 p.m. At 7 o’clock, the carpool lane ends and the toll is the same for everyone. We all agreed to contribute to the toll (a dress rehearsal for today’s new carpool toll). I finally got home at 7:15.

Our ride today is off to a good start. Traffic is very light because it’s summer and a holiday week, but I’m surprised there aren’t more drivers car-pooling. That $6 toll is steep! Approaching the Richmond-El Sobrante area traffic thickens and I look at those 3 lanes to my right, all single drivers, no passengers, and think about each of them paying that $6 at the toll plaza. I and the back seat passenger both get out $1.25 for the driver, who at first declines, but we insist, and I lay the money on the tray between the seats. I don’t see a FasTrack transponder in his window and ask him about it. “No, I don’t have it yet, I’m supposed to get it tomorrow”, he says. I tell him not to worry, that today the penalty is waived, as long as you prove you are getting FasTrack.

The non-carpool lanes look pretty congested at the toll booths, when we approach at 8 a.m., more so than usual for a light day, but the carpool lane isn’t affected at all, and we fly right through.

Another comment on the commute last night – as we all waited and waited, and waited! for a ride, we talked. And the riders are not happy about the toll. People opened up a bit more than they usually do when we’re in a commute car. And the long wait made tempers and emotions flare a bit. “They don’t care about us”, one woman said. “It’s just the money they care about.”

2 Responses

  1. Excellent artical. I think going forward, the whole paying passenger will be an elephant in the room. If no one brings it up, no one will pay.

    Just to turn the tables a bit, if the Vallejo Greyhound parking lot started charging for parking, would the drivers be so forgiving and start paying the passenger?

    • Thanks for the feedback, Jon. I’m not so sure about the ‘elephant in the room’. Feels to me like a number of drivers are going to bring it up and lots of riders will get in the car with their $ in hand. You’re right that there are some who will say and do nothing. It is still the best commute deal, dollar-wise, riders paying or not. I think the toll thing has angered many carpoolers on both sides of the front seat and the sharing of the toll is a way of expressing solidarity, perhaps? Us against those who would charge toll? CG

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