Monday, November 29 The Tolls are Rolling in!


Damn! Ice on the windshield this morning, and it’s 28 degrees. I am happy to see a long line of cars waiting for riders so no waiting in the cold. It’s a beautiful clear morning and a rosey-hued sunrise is pushing up over the horizion. I’m in a commercial electric contractor’s Ford pickup. I’ve ridden with him before. I like him, like his truck and like his radio choices. Today it’s NPR and the buzz is all about the WikiLeaks. He switches the dial to classical piano (a Bach sonata) which is a nice accompaniment to the view of the bay this morning. The sun is now up and the water is so calm it looks like frozen ice. The city is looking lovely as usual in this golden light. A few stray ducks flap along over the water.

The toll gates at the bridge are a backed-up mess for the non carpoolers. It’s one of those moments when I renew my love for the casual carpool. In spite of the toll crazies and the occasional cantankerous ride, it is still such an amazing system. But it seems that Caltrans and some of our other transportation officials don’t see it that way. Take a look at Michael Cabanatuan’s front page article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (“Toll Lane on I-680 Working as Planned”). I talked about this issue in my September 10 Blog – “The Express Lanes Are Coming”.

What is going on is this: the 800 miles of carpool lanes in the bay area are being converted into Express Lanes, the southbound Interstate 680 over the Sunol Grade being the first to go. An Express Lane means that single drivers can use the carpool lanes by paying a toll, tallied by the ever-lovin’ FasTrack transponder. Sure, carpoolers can continue to use the lanes for free but as I suspected, the increased use by the single, paying drivers is adding congestion to the carpool lane. One carpooler commented, “It used to take me 50 minutes (to get from San Ramon to San Jose) but now it takes me 10 to 15 minutes longer.” I predict it’s just going to get worse.

The story comments on the toll revenue that has already been made, as though this is a marker of the ‘success’ of the new Express Lane plan. Cabanatuan reports, “In its first two months of operation, the lane has collected $105,611.” It is expected to eventually bring in about $5 million a year. The cost of setting this up, reconfiguring this one lane on this one portion of a single freeway (electronic toll-collection equipment) was about $37.6 million.

Of course, Caltrans claims that it is helping to de-congest the traffic. “it gives people some stability in their commute and the ability to get from point A to point B in a fixed period of time.” If you can tell me exactly what that means, go for it. I would also like Caltrans to tell me (and all of us who commute) why this is a better way to spend millions of dollars to accommodate cars instead of coming up with an effective public transportation plan.

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