SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A bill that would raise the toll on Bay Area bridges for a five-year period to fund public transportation passed Wednesday evening after its first committee hearing.
"The Assembly Transportation Committee just passed our bill (SB 532) to enact a temporary bridge toll to ensure Bay Area public transportation agencies can modernize and not be forced to slash service," State Senator Scott Wiener wrote on Twitter Wednesday, who introduced the bill.
"This bill will prevent devastating BART service cuts and support robust transit service," tweeted BART director Rebecca Saltzman.
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State Bill 532 would raise tolls on seven state-owned Bay Area bridges by $1.50 from January 2024 through December 2028. The toll increase would fund public transportation improvements.
The proposed bill received pushback from the Bay Area Council.
"No one wants to pay higher tolls myself included but the question here is are we going to continue to have viable public transportation in the Bay Area," said Wiener at the hearing.
Bridges that will see a toll increase under the bill include the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Dumbarton Bridge, Carquinez Bridge, Benicia-Martinez Bridge and Antioch Bridge.
The Bay Area Council, which represents more than 325 major employers was opposed to the bill.
"Raising tolls over and over and over again every time the transit agencies say they're short of money is a fool-hearted strategy," said Bay Area Council President and CEO Jim Wunderman.
Wunderman says before they can support new taxes, tolls or fees to support transit, they need to see the agencies do the hard work to make their systems safer, most cost-effective and more seamless.
"If the Bay Area Council doesn't think that tolls are the correct funding source, then I hope the Bay Area Council will actually suggest solutions instead of just saying no," said Wiener.
The Bay Area Council also points out what it sees as disparities in transportation, including that those individuals who drive across the bridge and pay tolls are statistically lower income, have lower levels of education and are disproportionately people of color.
"I've not seen that data. What we do know is that public transportation riders are significantly lower income than people who are driving," said Wiener.
Also that many workers are already struggling with the high cost of living in the Bay Area, and this could contribute to more residents leaving the region and further taxing commuters will undermine efforts to bring more employees and visitors to struggling downtowns.
"When the tolls start to get up to this level, it becomes material," said Wunderman.
"But let's be crystal clear, the worst thing that can happen for downtown San Francisco and other downtown areas is for public transportation to fall apart," said Wiener.
Wiener says if public transportation falls apart, there will be even more cars and congestion on the roads.
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