While congestion pricing has already been introduced by several states and instituted on some highways, San Francisco is poised to become the first city in the United States to implement this innovative transportation demand management tool. According to the latest Urban Mobility Report, the roadways of the Bay Area are the fifth-most congested in the country, with commuters losing an average of 55 hours a year sitting in traffic. Transportation sources are to blame for over half of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, while travel delays cost individuals and businesses upwards of $2 billion annually in lost-time expenses. To this end, July 1 marked the start of increased commuter tolls on seven state-owned bridges, aimed at reducing congestion, raising funds to bring local bridges to a state of good repair, and increasing funding for transit.
Two of the seven state-owned bridges, the Antioch Bridge and Dumbarton Bridge, are in need of repairs totaling $750 million. They are the last two state bridges in the region to undergo strengthening to bring them up to modern earthquake safety standards. The Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) is facing a roughly $140 million budget gap, so in order to help fund these crucial projects, tolls on all seven state-owned bridges increased $1, from $4 to $5, except for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which instituted congestion pricing. Under the new pricing agenda, Bay Bridge tolls are $4 during weekday off-peak periods and rise to $6 during weekday peaks. Not only will the increased tolls help fund critical infrastructure repairs, but they also will assist in giving commuters another transportation option: Part of the money will be used to finance projects voted on by Bay Area residents in Regional Measure 1 and 2, of which funds are designated for transportation improvements designed to get commuters onto transit. These transit projects include rail extensions, development of intermodal facilities, and express bus amenities.
BATA recently released a report highlighting the results since congestion pricing took effect in the region. Although it may be too early to draw conclusions from the data, one thing is for certain: Since the onset of congestion pricing, peak-hour traffic at the Bay Bridge has moved twice as quickly as it did at this same time last year. The maximum delay on the bridge has dropped from 19 minutes to 10 minutes. These reductions are likely due to both a drop in the number of drivers as well as to the shift in the time they cross the bridge, to avoid paying an extra $2. An additional side effect of the pricing is an increase in mass transit ridership. Since the start of pricing on the bridges, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has reported an increase of 4,500 passengers a day both into and out of the city. Overall, crossings have fallen by 9,821 vehicles a day compared with a similar period last year, and full-paying fares are up 2,305 a day. The new toll schedule is predicted to generate an additional $165 million a year, much of which will be channeled back into local infrastructure. The goal of congestion pricing is to reduce both travel delays and greenhouse gas emissions, while simultaneously improving public transit systems and driver experiences. San Francisco is off to a good start.