ORINDA, Calif. – San Francisco is considered one of the desirable travel destinations in the world. But who would have thought of having to pay a fee to drive into the city? And then again to drive out!
According to Matier & Ross, The San Francisco County Transportation Authority is proposing a toll for motorists coming into downtown, or even the city in general. This idea was presented in the spirit of cutting down rush-hour traffic, but it sounds like another Golden Gate boondoggle to me.
The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937, actually under its $35 million budget. The original toll was $0.50, plus .05 for each additional passenger, although its operator guaranteed crossing would be free after the toll charges had paid for construction. The toll was never discontinued; it just kept rising each year. Now the operator-that same San Francisco County Transportation Authority-has plans for an $8 per car toll.
SFCTA has held a series of community meetings presenting several proposals for raising money for the cash-strapped city while reducing traffic. The plans range from $3 to either enter or leave the city on weekdays to $6 just to leave the downtown area, with a generous half-price discount for actual city residents. The authority might also give commuters a break if they pay the bridge toll on either the Golden Gate or the Bay Bridge, which could reduce the commute fares for drivers who work in the city to a mere $10 or $11 per day. Oh, not including parking fees, but the authority doesn’t get to cut into those.
SFCTA Executive Director José Luis Moscovich explains, “We are going to have upwards of 50,000 more cars in the downtown and South of Market over the next 20 years. We need to start talking about how to handle it.” Even Mayor Gavin Newsom, who certainly knows how to spend public money, is vaguely aware there’s a recession going on. “I’m not sure we are solving a huge problem, and I’m not sure this is the right time to be promoting the idea,” Newsom said.
While the tolls could raise an estimated $80 million per year, I’m wondering how much it would cost to handle the logistics alone. After all, it’s not like throwing a booth in front of a bridge that has only one entrance point. Do you build barriers at every street that doesn’t have a toll booth? And wouldn’t that cause even worse traffic jams, not to mention anger management issues? How about just a high wall around the city, like in that sci-fi movie about fortress New York City?
There are certain cities in the world that have solved the traffic problem more elegantly: they just don’t allow cars. Of course, most of those cities either have much better public transport available or are small enough to walk around (or take a gondola) fairly easily.
And then there’s the potential loss of revenue for many types of private business in the city. “Why don’t they just hand out a ‘Don’t come to San Francisco’ sign?” North Beach Merchants Association VP Kathleen Dooley said after attending one of those community meetings.
Don’t worry, Kathleen. If the city does allow this loopy, penny-wise, pound-foolish idea, I won’t need a sign to tell me to keep out.