Thursday, July 8 To Pay or Not to Pay


The evening carpool home last night (Wednesday, July 7) was fast and uneventful. A nice ride in a Jeep SUV. 50’s guy driving asks for toll contribution when we get in. He plugs in some sort of traffic device that is a running commentary on the local traffic. He also has NPR tuned in and later, KDFC (classical music station). All good sounds, except for the traffic device.

This morning (Thursday, July 8) a ride was pulling up for me as I walked up to the carpool line area. Looks like another bay area summer morning on the freeway – gray skies, light traffic. This was a Chevrolet 2-seat pickup truck. A UPS-uniformed driver was driving, which always makes me feel more secure – they spend the day driving in torturous traffic so the commute should be a piece of cake for them, right? I voluntarily drop $1.25 into his cup holder and he chuckles. “Oh, ok”, he shrugs. He says he doesn’t care one way or the other. “I saw a woman get out of a car in the line yesterday”, he says. “She wouldn’t pay the toll, so I guess the driver kicked her out.” He says he’s heard other riders say they won’t pay.

Now that we’re sort of settling into the shock of paying a toll in the carpool lane, I’ve been thinking about how this affects the driver/rider relationship. In a sense, riders have ALWAYS been paying. Before the actual FasTrack toll situation, our presence in a commute car saved the driver $4 each way – that’s $8 that the carpool driver is ahead of the non-carpool folks. Carpool riders now, even with the toll, are saving the driver $3.50 on the Bay Bridge and $2.50 on the Carquinez, or $6 a day if you come from Vallejo. And if the riders, in addition, pay the $2.50 toll for the driver, its $5 across the Carquinez Bridge and $6 across the Bay Bridge that’s in the driver’s pocket.

Yes, I know the driver pays insurance, gas, parking, but if they drove alone they would still pay insurance, gas, parking PLUS the $11 a day toll.

So – to pay or not to pay. What’s fair? And if riders are coughing up the entire toll round trip, should we have more say in what’s on the radio, the temperature of the car, the conversation?

I was anticipating (hoping) that the mutual sharing of the toll would promote more of a partnership between rider and driver, but am beginning to wonder if it’s just going to become an issue of contention. “You’re getting a ride, dammit, so pay up and shut up!” Or “We’re paying your toll, so turn off that damn hip hop!”

5 Responses

  1. Insightful observation on what’s really going on in the world of SF Bay area carpooling. I love your last sentence because I can totally see how both those sentiments could exist. Perhaps after everyone gets used to the new system there will be more of a sense of partnership. Good luck!

  2. I carpool from Berkeley almost every day. I’m of the opinion that if drivers want a contribution to the toll, they should ASK. (And I’ll give them $1 in that case, unless it’s a filthy car or they smell or I’m wedged into the backseat next to a child seat– in that case I’d find another car). But I’m not going to offer. I’ve not had anyone ask yet…in fact, drivers seem to be ignoring riders even MORE than usual, sort of hoping they don’t bring up the subject?

    The few people I know in person who are drivers have basically said “picking up riders means I can avoid the toll plaza and save $3.50 in tolls- why would I charge someone on top of that?” I think it’s just that the cost of the choice to drive a car into SF has gone up. That should NOT be passed on to the riders.

    That being said, however, if someone asks nicely I’ll give them a dollar if it’s a non-smelly clean car rather than have to deal with them getting pissy. It’s too early in the morning to argue.

    • Hi Katie – mmm – maybe the Vallejo people are just a different breed of carpoolers, or maybe I’m just riding with super-conscientious people. I was a little taken aback, though, to see a car pull up in the Vallejo line this morning with a sign in the windshield – “Toll Required”. That certainly settles any questions! CG

    • Katie, I respect your comment, but as a driver I don’t agree with your entire outlook. It is true that drivers save time and $3.50 for picking up passengers, however you did not point out the cost savings for riders.

      How much time does the passenger save? What is the cost for public transportation from North Berkeley to SF? Is BART really that comfortable during rush hour? If a BART train is smelly, do you wait for the next train?

      Is contributing $1 really that bad?

      Unfortunately, many drivers are uncomfortable asking for a contribution. Personally, I’ve seen reactions go both ways. Some riders are more than happy to contribute, and some riders offer excuses like they have no change or they never charge when they drive.

      Yes, mornings have become much more stressful.

  3. I carpool from Vallejo daily. The way I see it, we as riders should share the costs because if it weren’t for those ppl choosing to drive in, as riders, our costs of commute would significantly increase. Either we ourselves would have to drive, or take public transportation- both of which would amount to significantly more than a mere $2/day. This driver/rider deal is a PARTNERSHIP, meaning drivers need riders and riders need drivers or else this whole rideshare could not exist. I say to riders, stop being cheap and pay your way. Its the right thing to do. And should the driver refuse to accept, than cool…I’m surely not going to insist they take the money but I will surely offer.

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