SAN FRANCISCO - State lawmakers could increase tolls on Bay Area bridges to help transportation agencies experiencing financial struggles.
Sen. Scott Wiener on Monday introduced SB 532, the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Public Transportation Emergency Act, which would temporarily raise tolls on the seven state-owned bridges in the Bay Area to $8.50 for five years. That is a $1.50 increase.
Wiener said the bill would offer some financial relief for transportation agencies, that would prevent service cuts and improve safety, cleanliness, and reliability.
"We’ve made good progress in this year’s budget, but the future of public transportation in the Bay Area is still under threat due to pandemic-related operational deficits that, without help, will lead to severe service cuts," said Senator Wiener. "Bay Area transit ridership continues to climb, but it’s not happening quickly enough to make up for the loss of federal emergency assistance."
BART and Muni are among the transit operators fear that major service cuts are on the horizon due to operational shortfalls after the stoppage of federal pandemic relief funds. They say service cuts could trigger a "transit death spiral."
Wiener's proposal aims to generate an estimated $900 million over the next five years, providing crucial support to the transit systems that the Bay Area heavily depends on.
Muni has cautioned that without additional funding, they will be forced to reduce transit service for riders who typically have lower wages and heavily rely on public transportation for commuting to and from work.
"Service cuts would be devastating to these riders who rely on transit the most," said Jeff Tumlin, director of Muni.
While transit advocates express their support for the plan, some drivers argue that the additional cost to them would pose a significant burden.
"I cross the bridge every day, twice sometimes, it's already $14? So, raising up another $1.50, it's like, it's going to break my bank," said motorist Elias Franco.
"I stay in Vallejo, and I cross two bridges," said another driver, Ordell Edwards. "So $1.50 is going to kill us."
Sen. Wiener counters that a healthy transit system is critical to the Bay Area's economy, and that if transit is allowed to fail it will make it harder for all commuters.
"It'll be harder for drivers to get around," said Wiener. "Even if you never ever take public transportation. If public transportation service levels collapse, drivers will face a ton more congestion."
Wiener has stressed that his toll increase would be temporary, and says voters will eventually have to decide on a sustainable funding model for transit.