ABC7 conducts commute challenge during morning commute on Bay Bridge

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The commute across the Bay Bridge is one of the worst commutes in the nation. ABC7 morning traffic reporter Alexis Smith and Sky7 conducted a Bay Bridge time challenge during one morning commute.

It is a mind-numbing crawl to get to the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza in the morning. It's usually bumper-to-bumper and drivers weave in and out of traffic.

"What should be like a 15 minute drive can sometimes take up to take up to an hour," said one driver.

"It's getting worse. Lately it seems like a Fastrak lanes are backed up more than the cash lanes," said another commuter.

All the lanes on the bridge take Fastrak. Some still accept cash too, and sometimes those cash lanes seem shorter. Smith did a comparison and rigged two ABC7 News cars with cameras and put sevens on their roofs to track them.

The stopwatch started from Powell Street in Emeryville to see how long it takes to get through the toll plaza.

Alexis Smith: "They both left at the same time. The blue seven is going through the cash lanes, and we've got the red seven going through the Fastrak lanes."

What's keeping the red 7, Fastrak car behind? It had to cross over the cash lanes to get into the Fastrak only lanes in the center. The cash car's lead doesn't last long.

Alexis Smith: "It looks like we've got the Fastrak car, the red seven, actually catching up and just passing the blue the cash car,"

Nearly 35 minutes into the commute traffic slows down and it's the drivers in the cash lanes creating the problem.

Alexis Smith: "We've seen car after car leave those cash lanes and merge to the right, cutting off the Fastrak only lanes."

The cash driver is also feeling the pinch.

Alexis Smith: "So, he's actually getting cut off in the cash lanes because these guys are all trying to get over into the Fastrak, so it's affecting the cash driver too."

By the time the challenge is over, the Fastrak lane is just about five minutes faster than the cash lane. A time savings, but maybe not as much as you'd think.

"That's really consistent with what we've found over the years," said John Goodwin with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "Evidently, there are some folks who think their time is more valuable than others."

He says those drivers who cut over at the last minute play a big part in slowing down traffic.

"There's no real advantage gained by the folks that, as we call them the dive bombers," Goodwin said.

The MTC says it's tried to prevent that by installing flexible pylons, but those dive bombers just run them over. Goodwin says considerate drivers would go a long way in speeding up traffic, but the commission is also looking at ways to eliminate the cash option from the bridge to speed things up.

The Golden Gate Bridge stopped taking cash tolls in 2013. Since then, the flow of traffic on the bridge has improved. There is no set date for when the Bay Bridge might stop taking cash.

"There are a number of things we need to do because the traffic volumes are so much greater on the Bay Bridge in particular then they are on the golden gate bridge," Goodwin said.

In the meantime, drivers are looking for relief and leaving earlier won't help them. The MTC says the busiest time on the Bay Bridge is now between 5 and 6 a.m., a 75-percent increase since 2010.
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