Five years ago, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District (GGBHTD) considered varying bridge tolls based on demand, with higher prices during peak demand times. The concept, called congestion management or congestion pricing, didn’t go anywhere. Then-San Rafael mayor Al Boro torpedoed it, labeling the proposal an unfair “Marin commuter tax.” San Francisco was outraged, but at least they got a pioneering new parking system that varies the price of on-street parking by demand instead.
Meanwhile, GGT’s often-high fares have gone up by 5% every year on July 1. If congestion management is a “Marin commuter tax”, surely annual fare hikes well above inflation are the same thing. While the purpose is to try to keep fares in line with costs, the hikes aren’t targeted well enough to either manage congestion or improve the agency’s financial standing.
Better than blanket hikes would be targeted hikes to ferry fares and bridge tolls paired with bus service improvements. GGBHTD should use its monopoly power to maximize the infrastructure it has at its disposal.
Ferry ridership has proven to be extremely robust and can likely absorb the hikes, increasing its farebox recovery. For bridge tolls, the stretch of Highway 101 between Sir Francis Drake and Tiburon boulevards is about 800 cars over-capacity in the evenings, or roughly 2/5ths of a freeway lane. Adjusting tolls and bus service to shift some of demand to buses would open up the northbound direction. Trunk line bus service would be more reliable and less expensive to operate, and drivers would save 20 minutes of time every night.
Yet with a blanket 5% hike on regional and commute buses, GGBHTD is actually exacerbating its bus ridership problems. It shifts demand from a mode with excess capacity to one that is already over-capacity. This is not smart management but political management, and the outcome is worse service and worse traffic.
Cross-posted at The Greater Marin.