With constant gridlock turning freeways into parking lots, BART trains packed to the gills and mounting concerns about how to accommodate continued growth in the region, more than half of prospective voters said they’d be willing to pay up to $3 more in bridge tolls to ease congestion, according to a new poll.Commissioned by the region’s two largest business boosters, the Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group, along with the transportation policy think-tank, SPUR, the poll surveyed more than 9,000 residents, 85 percent of whom said they felt traffic is worse this year than it was last year. Roughly three quarters, of 74 percent, said they’d be willing to pay more to cross the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges if that money is invested in “big regional projects” that ease traffic and improve mass transit.
Raising bridge tolls is based on the erroneous assumption that commuting is a discretionary activity and thus economically penalizing it will get drivers off jammed highways. It’s not. For commuters, commuting is part of their jobs. They are merely conforming to an outdated cultural expectation that knowledge workers show up every day at the office. This “solution” dates back to the 1980s when Bay Area traffic congestion began getting out of control. Transportation planners suggested at the time that market-based approaches such as higher tolls during peak hours would help alleviate it.
Bay Area employer organizations can have the greatest impact on reducing commute hour traffic congestion by reducing the role of the centralized, commute-in office. That can be done by leveraging information and communications technology — much of it innovated in the Bay Area — to enable knowledge workers to work in communities where they live instead of driving daily to work.