Phil Matier: Congestive Pricing Not Stopping Bay Bridge Commuters During Morning Peak

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Traffic backs up on Interstate 80 at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) strike snarls the Monday morning commute on October 21, 2013 in Oakland, California. BART workers continue to strike after contract negotiations between BART management and the transit agency's two largest unions fell apart last week. Management and unions agreed on the financial specifics of the contract but differed on workplace safety rules. An estimated 400,000 commuters ride BART each day. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Traffic backs up on Interstate 80 at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

PhilMatier01-370 Phil Matier
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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— An increase in price during peak morning commute hours doesn’t appear to be stopping people from crossing the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

It’s been an interesting experiment implemented four years ago by Bay Area transit officials who thought that by changing the pricing on the Bay Bridge that they could get people to start driving during off hours. It just hasn’t panned out. People are people and they need to go where and when they need to go.

Initial reports showed a little bit of a drop-off, but since then, the surge has only gone up. You could perhaps chalk it up to the economy and the tech jobs San Francisco is experiencing. The numbers show that there are more cars crossing the bridge (1,800 more during morning rush hour than before the start of congestive pricing).

So if the price incentives and disincentives aren’t working what’s next? My instinct (after talking to the bureaucracy of transit officials) tells me that they’re going to go after parking next.

Their feeling is that as long as there’s parking, whether it is free or affordable on the other side of the bridge and it’s cheaper than taking BART, they’re going to continue to drive. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next move has something to do with parking charges.

The weekends are a nightmare at the Bay Bridge, because so many people are using cash rather than FasTrak and because the carpool lanes aren’t in effect.

The bridge’s ridership caps out at about 9,000 cars an hour (that’s with the old and new bridge). While the new bridge may be a safer span, it’s not increasing capacity. It still hits a certain limit.

Congestive Pricing Not Stopping Bay Bridge Commuters During Morning Commute

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The question is, are they really trying to smooth out traffic or are they trying to maximize revenue? Transit officials said congestive pricing was going to be a revenue-neutral endeavor and that they weren’t going to make any money off of it.

After the first six months, Caltrans wasn’t even reviewing congestive pricing until I called to ask about it. Like it or not, I think this pricing model is here to stay. Good luck with the backups.

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