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  • Waiting for a ride


MONDAY MORNING VALLEJO CAR POOL. A cold sluggish start to the week. No cars and 8 riders lined up. But the rides start pulling up right away. Here comes a sad little Toyota. The right front fender is smashed in and a naked tire pokes out. Clutter is visible inside the car and the driver is frantically scooping things up as she pulls up to the line. The guy at the front of the line passes and the next two fellows take the ride. I move up behind the first rider. “Turned it down, huh?” I ask. He smiles apologetically and sort of stammers, “Well, yeah, I, uh. . ” I chuckle and tell him I would have passed on the ride too. We both get in the back seat of the next car, a giant Honda SUV. The kind that has two automatically sliding doors. A couple, husband and wife probably, are in the front. I pass up 4 quarters, which the wife checks out and then drops into the cup holder. My sense is that they took two riders so that their toll would be covered. They’re not big on the warm and friendly greetings. Especially not the warm part. Both of them are wearing short-sleeve cotton shirts and it’s about 50 degrees in the car.

A sparkling green Chinese charm hangs from the mirror. A Chinese food take out menu lays on the floor. The woman is sitting on a flowered, ruffly seat cushion and has a small green blanket tucked around her feet. I wish I had a blanket. My fellow rider in the back seat next to me looks like he could use one, too. He’s huddled over, asleep, arms wrapped around himself.

Traffic is moving at the limit and is light, until the toll area where it’s a gridlock with traffic backed up for about half a mile. The new Bay Bridge is definitely taking shape. From today’s high SUV view I can see the two sweeping side-by-side lanes of the new bridge, nearly all the way to Treasure Island now. The traffic signs and lights posts have been installed on much of the completed section. As much as I resent the inflated expense of the new bridge and the undoubted boondoggling with how long it’s taking to build, I am pleased to see that it will be a very dynamic part of the architectural look of the bay area. A real knock out.

TUESDAY MORNING. A great start to the day. A big flock of Canadian Geese fly over our car on my way to the carpool. Beautiful flyers, flapping and honking as they carry on their mystical and eternal tradition of migrating. It’s a short wait at the line today and my ride is a sleek 2-door BMW. The rider in front of me takes the small back seat and we adjust and settle before getting out our toll contributions. The guy in the back asks as he prepares to hand over his money, “Is that a cup of coffee or a toll cup?” We all laugh. It actually IS a cup of coffee and the other cupholder contains a berry smoothie. “I’m a road warrior today,” the driver says. “I have to drive all the way down to Santa Clara, so this is my breakfast and coffee break.”

The other rider says one car he rides in has a mason jar sitting in the cup holder with a ‘toll’ sign on it. And another ride has a sign on the glove box that says ‘Paying passengers only’. He says it’s still a great deal and he is happy to pay the toll. He doesn’t understand why some riders resent paying. I comment that the drivers are saving $3.50 even without being paid by the riders. I also mention that some drivers are jerks, too.

Yesterday’s Chronicle had a front page story on the toll issue and its effect on carpooling. (“New Bay Bridge Tolls Shake Up Economics of Casual Carpooling”, SF Chronicle Monday, August 16, by Will Kane). Will interviewed 3 dozen drivers and riders and came up with three different ‘camps’: those who will pay a portion of the toll, those who pay only on request, and those who refuse. Most drivers don’t require a contribution, according to this article, but there are some who will turn off their car and wait until the passengers pay up. Several carpoolers he talked to, both riders and drivers, are abandoning the carpool because of the tolls and the discomfort with paying or not paying drivers.

The article also points out that a recent count of carpoolers on the bridges throughout the Bay Area shows 12,000 fewer drivers using the carpool lanes. Time will tell if this is a sign of things to come.

KNBR radio murmurs in the background and we end our ride with a discussion on the summer weather.

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