THURSDAY AND FRIDAY RIDES – Lotsa Toll Talk


THURSDAY, AUGUST 12. I arrive at the Vallejo carpool site to see at least 50 cars lined up. Nice (for the riders, anyway). I get in the front seat of a Chevrolet pickup. Another passenger is squeezed in the back. We buckle up and get out our toll offerings which are refused. “No money in this truck”, the driver says loudly. “You guys are saving me $3.50 by just riding with me.” He’s a rugged kind of guy, and the truck has a rugged kind of guy smell (not bad, just the way guys smell when they don’t use perfumes). I see part of a large tattoo on his right arm, under his gray t-shirt. He’s a contractor and commutes from Folsom 2 or 3 days a week, sometime on his motorcycle, he says.

“I’ve seen vans pull up and get 4 or 5 riders and charge each one of ’em $1.25”, he says. “A lot of drivers are just tryin’ to cash in on this toll thing.” I agree and relate the story of the BMW driver wanting her full $1.25 ‘fare’. (See my July 16 blog – Days of Contention).

His truck is clean and comfy. “I’m just about 500 miles short of 300,000 miles on this truck. I take real good care of it and like to keep it clean.” He says he see guys pull up to jobs in dirty, torn clothes and beat up trucks and tools. “You just know what kind of work they do.” I agree. “My husband always says you can tell a lot about a worker by the way he takes care of his tools.” A newer pickup truck passes us as we cross the Bay Bridge. The rear window is out and has been taped with plastic, which has torn and is flapping in the wind. The driver points it out. “That’s what I mean. You just know what kind of work you’re going to get from that guy.”

I comment on the light summer traffic, and he thinks it’s mostly the economy. But he also thinks a lot of people are taking unemployment benefits who don’t deserve them – his brother for one. I don’t want to argue with him, but most people do not have a great time being on unemployment. Their benefit amount is usually a fraction of what their salaries were, and now, for the new group of “99rs” – the people who’ve been on the dole for 99 weeks – their benefits have run out. No more extensions. And no jobs.

I know there are people who will always take advantage of situations where money is involved. Look at the banks, look at Wall Street, the credit card companies! And look at the carpool drivers who demand their $1.25 every day.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 13. Another ride in a pickup truck today. This is a much bigger, newer Chevrolet, again with a back seat. The rear passenger gets in and is really cramped. I assure her I’ll move my seat forward, which I do. The driver is a big guy in a red t-shirt and a bluetooth device in his ear. I put a dollar in the cup holder, the other passenger passes up $1.25. We talk about our jobs and the economy. He tells me about his divorce a few years ago. “I lost everything – the cars, 2 houses, the works. I just walked away from it.” Sounds like this disaster hit just as the economy was about to cave in, so he’s been scrambling to put his life and job back together. He’s re-married, and has been commuting from Sacramento to pick up work in the city.

About the tolls, he says “These bridges were supposed to have been paid for years ago, so what are we paying for now?” I tell him that sales tax was a big part of the revenue for the California transportation agencies, and with the real estate disaster, much of that money is gone. “The sales tax revenue helped pay for road and bridge maintenance, as well as the salaries for people in those agencies”, I point out. “Wonder how much their salaries are” he asks. I wonder too and have been doing some research to find out. (Stay tuned).

He thinks that raising the toll fee and charging carpoolers is backfiring. “Look at how many fewer people are on the road”, he says. “So they get a dollar or two more per car in tolls, but 4,000 fewer cars. Stupid!” Looks that way to me too, but I’m waiting to see the numbers in a couple of months.

Until then, enjoy the light traffic and the warmer weather – predicted for next week – and count your blessings. These are rough times. CG

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