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Bay area drivers could pay higher bridge tolls to fund San Francisco public transportation

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(The Center Square) – Facing steep budget shortfalls, a San Francisco-area state lawmaker is proposing a higher bridge tolling fee to prop up the city’s public transit system.

Sen. Scott Wiener unveiled Senate Bill 532 in a tweet yesterday, “Today we’re announcing new legislation (SB 532) to ensure Bay Area public transit agencies aren’t forced to slash service as ridership recovers from the pandemic.”

SB 532 is a temporary emergency increase in bridge tolls over the next five years for all seven bay area bridges except the Golden Gate Bridge. By increasing tolls by $1.50, San Francisco expects to generate about $9 million over the 5-year period to fund “transit operations, including safety & cleanliness,” Weiner said.

In January 2022, the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) set a toll schedule for the seven state-owned bridges in the San Francisco Bay area. The price is in effect until the end of 2024. Cars and motorcycles using the bridges pay $7. This would increase to $8.50 under the proposal.

If you travel over more than one state-owned bridge per day during peak commute hours and pay bridge tolls with a FasTrak toll tag or License Plate Account, you will receive a $1.00 discount off your second toll ($0.50 for carpools) according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

“This is so important for our future…Transit is not optional, I think, for anyone. As you’re thinking about this, the question you need to ask yourself is, ‘Will the Bay area be a better place or a worse place if we see massive transit service cuts?’” Weiner said during a news conference.

Weiner reiterated that the cuts were necessary “For the future of mobility, for the future of our workforce, and for our climate future, because we know that we will not achieve our climate goals without a robust transport system.”

The senator said ridership at the start of Covid dropped by 90%-95%. Without the emergency federal aid, the system would have collapsed. The funding provided by the feds is running out. In 12-24 months, that money would be gone, the senator noted. Ridership is returning but not at a rate to replace the expiring federal aid. The system depends on ridership. It currently has a $2.5 billion operational deficit which the legislature has helped to close.

Discussions over the weekend reinstated planned transit cuts of $2 billion proposed by Newsom, in a state budget amounting to over $300 billion.

“The legislature has stepped up with funding for our transportation operational fiscal cliff…unfortunately it does not solve the complete problem and now it is up to the regions of the Bay area to engage in financial self-help and fund the remaining hole in our budget,” Weiner said.

The bill, first introduced to the legislature on Valentine’s Day, was referred to the Committee on Transportation last Thursday following a second reading and amendments.

Under the bill, money collected from the toll increase will be transferred to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and disbursed to transit operators with a financial shortfall, servicing the San Francisco Bay area.

On January 1 2022, BATA tolls increased by $1 and another is planned for January 1, 2025 in a trio of January increases that began in 2019.

SB 532 would remain in effect until Dec. 31, 2028.

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