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  • Writer's pictureAmy Thomson

SB 532: A Temporary Bridge Toll Increase to Save Transit, Advance Equity

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Fresh off the heels of TransForm’s major victory securing $5.1 billion for transit in the state budget, TransForm’s Transportation Policy and Programs Manager, Amy Thomson, sat down with TransForm’s Policy Director Zack Deutsch-Gross to talk about SB 532: the Safe, Clean & Reliable Public Transportation Emergency Act.

Amy: Why is TransForm sponsoring SB 532?

Zack: SB 532 is a needed lifeline for Bay Area transit, preventing service cuts that would be devastating to people who count on it. Not only will this measure keep buses and trains running but it also invests in improvements to transit safety, reliability, and cleanliness.

To save transit service and fund these investments, SB 532 requires the Bay Area Toll Authority to raise bridge tolls by $1.50 for five years for all state-owned bridges in the region, raising $900 million. At least 90% of the revenue generated will be dedicated to maintaining transit service, with the remaining 10% set aside for a better rider experience and other reforms recommended in the Bay Area Transit Transformation Action Plan. The bridges that would see a toll increase are: San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Dumbarton Bridge, Carquinez Bridge, Benicia-Martinez Bridge, and the Antioch Bridge.

Didn’t the state just bail out transit agencies?

We are so grateful that Governor Newsom and the state legislature listened to us and other advocates and stepped up to provide $5.1 billion over the coming years to support transit. But the Bay Area will only receive about a quarter of those funds, much of which have already been earmarked for transit infrastructure, not operating costs. These important projects, like BART to Downtown San Jose, are set to leverage billions more in federal matching that we would lose if they are flexed for operations. That leaves about $400M, enough to sustain vital transit operations for about two more years, but not enough to get us to a regional transportation funding measure in 2026.

If SB 532 doesn’t pass, what happens to transit in the Bay Area?

TransForm’s recent report, Steering Away From the Fiscal Cliff, found that cuts to transit service would result in 735 million fewer transit rides in the Bay Area, and will burden current and future riders with an additional $5 billion in increased transportation costs over the next five years. Additionally, 80% of rides taken by passengers in zero-car households are earning $75,000 or less, illustrating that the people hit hardest by these service cuts would be those least likely to be able to afford alternative transportation. Finally, these service cuts would induce almost 150 million new vehicle miles traveled. The associated increase in traffic deaths, pollution, and congestion would be devastating for community health, particularly for lower-income and BIPOC communities near freeways.

Aren’t tolls regressive? What about impacts on those who must drive?

TransForm is committed to ensuring equity and access within the implementation of SB 532. In fact, drivers will benefit because the proposed bill prevents rampant congestion, that would inevitably result from transit service cuts, would leave drivers snarled in mind-numbing bridge traffic. Furthermore, the cost of inaction—letting transit fail—would be catastrophic for equity and access in the Bay Area.

We’re working with Senator Scott Wiener, the bill’s author, on a variety of equity-related measures to decrease the toll burden on those who must drive but may not be able to afford the toll increase. As laid out in our report Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity, three of the best options for ensuring pricing equity are caps, discounts, and exemptions. Caps put a limit on the number of times someone is charged for the toll increase, discounts reduce the amount paid each trip, and exemptions eliminate the toll increase entirely for target populations. Current intent language in SB 532 requires MTC to study, design, and implement an equity-based program to mitigate the impacts of the toll increase within two years of the bill’s passage.

Additionally, SB 532 codifies a $15 limit on the fines and fees drivers could face if they are unable to pay the bridge toll. This is important because we know that bridge fines and fees disproportionately impact low-income drivers and can push people into poverty, as detailed in SPUR’s report Bridging the Gap.

How can I support SB 532 and support public transit?

Call your legislators and ask them to support SB 532. The bill needs support from a supermajority of state legislators and Governor Newsom to pass. They need to hear from their constituents that SB 532 will advance equity and save transit in the Bay Area!


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