Golden Gate Bridge tolls should climb $2 — a buck in April and another dollar spread over the next four years. That's the recommendation made Monday by bridge officials.
The increases — to as much as $8 by 2018 — would again make the cost of crossing the landmark span the priciest in the Bay Area.
The proposed hike would be the first on the famous span in more than five years and would raise an estimated $123 million over the next five years. But it's sure to raise the hackles of commuters as well.
"At a certain point, it just gets to be too much of a burden," said Mig Hofmann, who commutes every day from Corte Madera to San Francisco State University, where she works as an information security officer.
Drivers crossing the Golden Gate pay $5 if they use FasTrak and $6 if billed through automated license plate readers. Last spring the Golden Gate became the first toll bridge in the Bay Area to get rid of toll collectors and cash payments and move to an all-electronic system.
The proposal recommended Monday would increase the FasTrak toll to $6 and the toll for license plate payments to $7. Over the next four years, the toll would go up in increments, with a 25-cent bump in July 2016 and 2017 and a 50-cent boost in July 2018.
Debate on Thursday
The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District's finance committee is scheduled to debate and vote on the proposal Thursday, and, if approved, the district's board of directors could give the final OK on Friday.
More than 80 percent of bridge drivers now use the FasTrak system, while the others are billed by license plate readers.
The toll plan comes as officials seek to cover an estimated $142 million budget deficit over the next five years. The increase would leave a $19 million shortfall, said General Manager Denis Mulligan.
The district has an urgent interest in raising tolls. For each month an increase is delayed, the district will lose about $1.5 million in revenue, officials said.
Subsidizing buses, ferries
More than half of the new money will be used to subsidize the district's bus and ferry service. Roughly 56 percent of the revenue generated by the district comes from bridge tolls, but only 36 percent of that money goes to funding the bridge division. The rest goes to subsidizing alternative modes of transportation, Mulligan said.
"We're famous for the bridge," he said. "But in reality, we're really operating a regional transportation service."
The district's 2003 mission statement calls for it to provide transportation services within the Highway 101 corridor. Its buses and shuttles, officials say, take about 25 percent of the vehicle traffic off of the bridge.
"If you think traffic is untenable now, imagine it with 25 percent more cars," Mulligan said.
Because North Bay voters, unlike most of the rest of the Bay Area, have failed to pass transportation sales taxes to help subsidize bus and ferry services, the costs of transit to take people off the bridge need to be covered through tolls.
But many commuters don't think it's right that their bridge tolls should be helping to pay for someone else's bus or ferry ride.
'A little ridiculous'
"For people who don't ever use the buses or ferries, it seems a little ridiculous," said Simon Myatt, a 23-year-old Santa Rosa resident who crosses the bridge at least twice a week. "I know that, as a community, we need to stick together, but it's not exactly fair."
Other commuters said paying the toll remains a good option, at least in relative terms. A one-way ferry ride from Larkspur to San Francisco is $9.50, though passengers do save on parking and wear and tear to their cars.
"It's still cheaper than the ferry," said Hofmann, who said she has been studying ways to lessen her commute costs. "I've been reassessing my options," she added. "I've looked into electric cars to try and bring down my transportation costs, and I've even considered relocating."
According to the bridge district, other reasons for the budget gap include increased costs of maintaining the bridge, buses and ferries; a $75 million contribution to the Doyle Drive replacement project due when work is completed in 2016; and flat traffic volumes, which means flat toll revenues.
The district received 130 comments about a variety of toll-increase alternatives in recent weeks online and at a series of open houses and public hearings. Officials said 54 people indicated support for the proposal; 30 opposed any increase; and 31 people suggested the district first consider other options, such as charges for bicyclists or pedestrians using the bridge.
Golden Gate Bridge tolls often have been more costly than those on the seven bridges owned by the state and operated by Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority. But in 2010, the state bridges caught up, and in the case of the Bay Bridge during peak hours, surpassed the Golden Gate.
Tolls during the morning and evening commutes on the Bay Bridge rose to $6 with a $4 charge at all other times. The other state bridges — the Dumbarton, San Mateo, Richmond-San Rafael, Carquinez, Benicia and Antioch — charge a $5 toll. No other toll increases are being contemplated, said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the toll authority.
Kale Williams and Michael Cabanatuan are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Twitter: @sfkale, @ctuan
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