Friday, July 16 Days of Contention


Casual Commuters lining up in Lincoln Park, San Francisco

A friend sent me this very funny photo and I had to pass it along. I need a laugh these days. Commuting has not been much fun lately, not that it ever really was, but it used to have a more comfortable, friendly feel about it. And that is going, going, maybe gone.

This issue of paying or not paying got to me last night. I waited at the Beale Street carpool line for nearly 45 minutes. As I was waiting I asked the rider behind me if he paid toll and how much. “$1.25” he promptly replied. I said “Do you realize that if both riders pay $1.25 the driver pays nothing at all?” “Oh no”, he quickly said. “The driver has to pay for the transponder.”

Before I could reply that the transponder does not cost you money, just the toll, our ride pulled up – a new BMW. As we got seated the rider I’d been talking to, now in the back seat, handed over his $1.25. I got buckled in and laid $1 on the cup rest area. The driver tapped her fingernail on my dollar bill and said, “Do you have a quarter?” When I reluctantly got it out she said with a sarcastic tone, “Thanks, this is really costing me a lot of money.”

A new BMW costs upwards of $50,000. The driver spent a good portion of what seemed a never-ending ride (heavy traffic, rear-enders) to Vallejo talking about the wonders of her BMW, trips she’d taken, cars she’d rented and she wound up having a regular BMW bonding session with the guy in the rear seat. Turned out he too owns a BMW along with a couple of Hondas. These folks are financially challenged? She can’t afford to pay a third of the $2.50 toll?

I feel angry. Even before the tolls began this month, much of the time I sensed an attitude of ‘master-serf’ between drivers and riders. The drivers assuming they are the only ones doing the favor by condescending to give a ride to the huddled masses in the carpool lines. When I discussed this with my daughter, a former Vallejo-SF commuter, she said she avoided the casual carpool for that very reason – the ‘attitude’. As I’ve mentioned in some of these blogs, I’d hoped that the SHARING of the toll would create a more congenial solidarity between drivers and riders, a ‘we’re-all-in-this-together’ bond. And at the very least, the fact that the riders are putting up money for the ride should level the playing field a bit, doncha think?

As I’ve acknowledged before, the drivers do pay gas, parking, insurance, but that is not a new expense. They have always done that, and never asked for reimbursement for those expenses, that I’m aware of. And I do not mind a bit paying a PORTION of the toll. But as I attempted to explain to both the ‘I OWN A BMW’ commuters, if two riders each pay $1.25, the driver is paying nothing towards the toll. They are still getting the free ride. And yes, the transponder is billed in advance each month, but with everyone contributing to the toll, they will get at least two-thirds of that back. Had I not been so angry, I would have asked this impoverished driver why she didn’t pick up a third rider. That would have meant $3.75 towards the burden of her commute and a profit on last night’s ride. Not only was I subjected to her blathering about her expensive car, I had to listen to her choice of music, which she sang or whistled along with from time to time. Not my choice and not pleasant, even though I was paying for the ride.

Some have commented that $1.25 is damn cheap for a ride between San Francisco and Vallejo and that is true. The issue here is more than just the money or the amount of money. As a matter of fact I spend more than $1.25 each way on my commute. I also spend $4 a day on MUNI and pay for the gas to get to and from the carpool lot. Most of us at this point in history do have money issues, including myself. But in a situation like the casual carpool, started by commuters and maintained and nourished by commuters, taking advantage of a few bucks from riders really smacks of nasty, greedy, selfish behavior. Doing that is just as short-sighted and mean-spirited as the Bay Area Toll Authority’s initiating carpool tolls in the first place. And that’s what makes me mad.

This morning, Friday, was a sunny morning in Vallejo, traffic looked light, there were cars lined up and waiting. Nice and easy. I got in the back seat of an older Chrysler sedan. The couple in the front seat were having an intense conversation about kids and a crisis with a college-age child. As we neared Richmond we entered heavy fog and it looked thick all the way into the City. A splendid tall white egret was walking about in the grasses near the freeway at Emeryville looking at once magnificent and out of place in the freeway setting. The toll gates were all nearly empty. As we got onto the bridge I interrupted the conversation and asked “What is your toll policy?” Without pause, the driver said “1.25.”

Sigh. Off to the weekend. Have a good one. CG

4 Responses

  1. Carpool = 3
    Bridge Toll = 2.50
    2.50/3 = 0.833…
    Driver’s put in your share if you are asking for toll $$

  2. RE: being subjected to the driver’s choice of music….. I ALWAYS bring headphones with me to plug into my iPod. That way I’m never subjected to the driver’s choice to play any and all manner of horrid things…or listen to them talking on the phone…. etc.

    It’s just an essential part of what I bring with me daily.

  3. I made the mistake of reading the discussion board about casual carpool at ridenow.org. I say it was a mistake because of some writer who are expressing their thoughts with such vitriol. It also seems that the folks choosing to write there are a very small portion of the casual carpool participants.

    Anyway, I agree that all 3 people in the vehicle should contribute to the toll. So, the fact that $2.50 is not easily divisible by 3 makes the situation even more difficult.

    • Re: the message board and the vitriol – yes, carpoolers can get emotional about the rides. And e-mail sometimes amplifies things. But the $2.50 is ridiculous to deal with. A dollar is the easiest contribution to make to the toll, but you’re still ‘overpaying’, and if you donate three quarters, there’s a sense in some cars that you’re being cheap. This morning I put a dollar in the cup holder and the passenger in the back seat did nothing. The driver didn’t comment at all, except to thank me, and there were no hard feelings. That’s the best way, in my opinion. Just do what you can. Carpooling is still the best deal for everyone, no matter the amount paid or not paid. CG

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