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San Francisco drops border toll idea
December 15, 2010, 02:46 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, spoke against congestion pricing to the San Francisco Transportation Authority board yesterday before it voted to scrap the idea.

Commuters traveling into San Francisco from San Mateo County will not face a $3 toll as city officials dropped the controversial idea yesterday.

The San Francisco Transportation Authority board voted to scrap studying congestion pricing along the border with San Mateo County after Supervisor Sean Elsbernd made a motion to ditch the idea. He and Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier were both critical of the plan, saying it was akin to "charging admission” to enter the city. Alioto-Pier was also critical of the transportation authority’s minimal outreach to neighboring communities, especially San Mateo County, about the plan.

"This looks like a fee to enter San Francisco to me,” Alioto-Pier said before the vote was made.

If implemented, Elsbernd said, there would be no way to enter the city without paying a toll.

"There would be no comparison in the world where an entire border was subject to a toll,” Elsbernd said.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, promised to craft legislation to oppose the toll if San Francisco moved forward with the plan. He told the board yesterday if the plan moved forward it could create "toll wars” on the Peninsula meaning San Mateo County could adopt its own toll for its border.

Congestion pricing has merit but requires a regional approach and should not be imposed unilaterally by cities, Hill said. It is a conversation that should be had at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which sets transportation policy for nine counties in the Bay Area.

The authority board, comprised of all 11 members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, voted 9-2 to drop the southern gateway option, with supervisors Chris Daly and Eric Mar voting to keep the county-line plan on the table.

Leading up to yesterday’s vote, Hillsborough Vice Mayor Tom Kasten, who also sits on the board of San Mateo County’s City/County Association of Governments, drafted a letter that local officials signed to urge the authority to eliminate the southern gateway option from further consideration.

"If we do it together, it is congestion pricing. On your own, it is a roadblock,” Kasten told the board yesterday.

C/CAG Executive Director Richard Napier also urged the board to drop the idea yesterday. Napier is not outright opposed to congestion pricing, saying it could work in the city’s denser areas. Along the county line, however, Napier said the idea was impractical.

The southern gateway plan would be unfair to Daly City residents who live close to the county line and would also force traffic from the main thoroughfares onto local streets, Kasten argued.

If passed, the issue would have gotten more volatile over time, Daly City Councilman David Canepa said yesterday. The southern gateway plan would have been especially unfair to Daly City residents, he said.

The transportation authority board did vote to continue studying congestion pricing in the financial district corridor, however.

But even that plan faces some opposition on the board for punishing San Francisco residents who work in the financial district.

"The northeast cordon would hurt San Francisco residents, also. We have to be aware of the economic impact to small business, as well,” Alioto-Pier said.

Jose Moskovich, executive director of the transportation authority, suggested San Francisco residents could avoid tolls in the financial district, for instance, by "working around the three-hour window.”

Under the proposal, all drivers would pay $3 to enter the financial district from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and another $3 to exit the financial district from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The city will study two congestion pricing options for the financial district, one that would charge residents to enter and exit the financial district during peak commute times and another to charge a toll just to exit the area during the evening commute.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, said tolls would have a negative impact on working-class families in the city.

"Working families cannot afford to pay outrageous fees just to drive from the West of Twin Peaks to downtown,” said Ma, who has opposed congestion pricing since serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  "The SFTA should proceed with great caution before approving any final congestion pricing plan. The reality is that many families have no other choice but to drive their children to school, soccer practice and the doctor’s office.”

Early estimates to set up a toll system range from $60 million to $100 million. The toll could generate as much as $60 million to $80 million in profits each year and would be used to improve roads and transit options, according to the transportation authority.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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