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First Of 3 Bay Bridge Toll Hikes Effective In January

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The first of three toll hikes for Bay Area toll plazas is set to take effect on January 1, 2019, which will affect all seven state-owned bridges.

Drivers can expect to pay as much as $7 to cross the Bay Bridge during peak hours. By 2022, it will cost $8 to get across, and in 2025 it will cost $9.

A public hearing was held Wednesday to comment on the forthcoming toll hikes, but no one came forward to give their opinion.

"We got crickets," said John Goodwin of the Bay Area Toll Authority.

Goodwin said that the toll authority has only received two emails throughout the month-long public comment period.

However, that doesn't mean drivers don't have an opinion about the $3 increase.

Drivers told KPIX 5 that they think the hike is "out of control" and could "disproportionately impact" people who have smaller paychecks. Some also questioned how they notified the public of the opportunity to provide public comment.

The toll authority said that it put out legal ads in newspapers across the nine Bay Area counties. It also sent out a press release last week, two days before Thanksgiving.

"I didn't know about the hearing." said Timothy Bittle, director of legal affairs for the Howard Jarvis Tax Association. "I didn't know about the public comment opportunity, so it's not surprising that the average motorist didn't know."

The Howard Jarvis Tax Association has filed one of two lawsuits against the toll authority, claiming that the toll increase "is a tax, not a fee." Bittle explained that a fee is generally provided for a service. However, money from the toll increase will go to  various transportation projects, including BART and the ferry service, which may not directly impact the drivers who pay the toll.

Bittle also noted that a tax requires 2/3 (~66%) voter approval, while the toll hike measure passed by only 54%.

With January 1 soon approaching, the lawsuits will likely not be settled before the price increase goes into effect. The Toll Authority plans to increase tolls anyway. "That $1 increase will be held in an escrow account for release when the litigation is resolved," Goodwin said.

In other words, the Toll Authority plans to pay the money back to the toll payers if they lose the lawsuit.

Fastrak users would automatically be reimbursed, however the Toll Authority admits it will be more difficult to repay drivers who pay tolls with cash. They advised cash payers to keep receipts as evidence that they paid the increased toll as of January 1st in the event that the Toll Authority loses one of the lawsuits.

[CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mistakenly said that the Howard Jarvis Tax Association would repay toll payers. It is the toll authority that would repay the toll increase should they lose one of the lawsuits]

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