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BART Directors: Maybe We Don't Need a Cell Shutdown Policy

Friday, September 23, 2011

(San Francisco – KALW) After asking its newly-appointed Citizen Review Board to consider guidelines for a cell-phone shutdown policy, the BART board of directors yesterday raised the possibility that such a policy might not be needed after all.

"I think we can slow down a bit at this point," said director Joel Keller. "Let's make sure this is properly vetted."

BART has been under scrutiny since it shut off in-station cell phone service to thwart a planned protest last month (and has, somewhat ironically, dealt with near-weekly protests since). Responding to public outcry, the board asked its civilian reviewers to develop potential guidelines for taking such actions in the future.

At yesterday's meeting, review board chair George Perezvelez reported some of their ideas, including one requirement that service could only be shut off in the case of an extreme threat to public safety, and another that three of four agency authorities – the BART police chief, the agency general manager, the board president, and legal counsel – agree that such a step is warranted.

Still, said Perezvelez, the review board's suggestions are right now just that. "It is ultimately your responsibility to make this decision," he told the board.

After the meeting, board president Bob Franklin said he was surprised at his colleagues' suggestion that clear guidelines might not be necessary. "I definitely think we need something," he said.

Board member Lynette Sweet said her priority was seeking public input. But alerting the public to the review board's work is slow going: they do not yet have a real web presence, and meetings only recently began to receive their own billing on the BART website – they were initially simply called "special committee".

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BART Protests Round Three: Fewer Disruptions, Clearer Message, But Still No Turning Point

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Police block fare gates at Embarcadero station (photo by Casey Miner/KALW)

(San Francisco – KALW) Last night's protests against BART police, now in their third week, caused far less disruption than the previous two demonstrations. In its place was what one might call dialogue – at least in isolated pockets.

As promised, a small groups of demonstrators took up posts outside Civic Center station just before 5pm, some wearing their signature Guy Fawkes masks, others kneeling on the ground writing signs with Sharpies.

By 5:30 the demonstration had become a march down Market Street towards the other downtown BART stations. Meanwhile, at Civic Center, several demonstrators lingered to debate with counterprotesters supporting BART police.

Counterdemonstrator Geoff Hodgins (photo by Casey Miner/KALW)

One, Geoff Hodgins, held a sign that read: "Don't want to be shot? Don't attack police with a deadly weapon!" He said he'd thrown a sign together at the last minute and would debate people until it fell apart. Another, Kurt Wagner, said he was a former member of the military and challenged a demonstrator on whether she had "ever had to wear a uniform." He said he respected the BART police's need to make quick decisions. The demonstrator, Rupa Marya, was Charles Hill's doctor at San Francisco General Hospital. "I wear a different kind of uniform," she told Wagner. "I'm on the other end of those guns."

Throughout the evening, demonstrators for the most part kept the focus on the issue of police brutality – the protests' original premise. Prior to the demonstration, organizers with Anonymous had issued a statement telling their members to stay on message, in no uncertain terms. "Stay put, stop randomly marching around, and pick a target," was the headline of one section. Another read: "Ideological inconsistency will ultimately do more harm than good, even if the conflicting voices are individually beneficial. To sway people to our cause we must win in the court of public opinion, and to conduct ourselves in such an erratic manner does little in this regard."

The statement was an acknowledgment that even a big and decentralized group -- as Anonymous prides itself on being -- cannot necessarily succeed without leadership. Demonstrator Ryan Bell said he didn't see that as a bad thing. "When someone gets a hold of a megaphone and starts going off about the Federal Reserve and the Illuminati, well – that's not what today's protest is about." Bell said he wanted to see more accountability from BART police, and for them to be stripped of their guns. "They can't be trusted with them," he said.

As the demonstration continued, long rows of armed police flanked demonstrators up and down Market Street and into and out of downtown BART stations, which remained open to commuters. Both police and demonstrators made their most dramatic showing at Embarcadero station around 6:15PM -- a yelling match and short scuffle that resulted in the night's only two arrests.

A demonstrator is arrested for trespassing (photo by Casey Miner/KALW)

The protest was winding down by 7 and ended by 8, a development which, the San Francisco Chronicle noted, permitted "a massive police and media contingent to disperse as well."

Until next Monday, that is.

 

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SFMTA's New Chief Doesn't Own a Car, Commutes by Bike

Thursday, August 04, 2011

(San Francisco, KALW) On August 15, San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency will get a new chief.

Ed Reiskin will replace Nat Ford as the overseer of all things transit-related.

Reiskin is  currently the head of Public Works in San Francisco. He's never run a transit agency, but he's been a manager in city government for a long time.

What's more, he actually rides Muni -- so he knows what he's getting into. He'll start the job facing a whole array of challenges, from implementing a new contract for Muni operators to trying to solve long-term budget problems.

KALW's Casey Miner interviewed Reiskin on his plans.

In the interview we learn that SF's new transpo chief doesn't own a car and commutes to work by bike. He did admit to occasionally sharing a car though, so he's not all together unfamiliar with the Bay Area driving experience.

As for what he's planning to change at "In terms of the specific priorities, I’ll find that out once I get there."

Muni bus in San Francisco, California (Photo by BrokenSphere)

Listen to the full interview at KALW News. There's also a transcript.

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Transportation Nation

Oakland: 356,000 Parking Tickets a Year, 14 Staffers to Handle Complaints

Thursday, July 28, 2011

(San Francisco – KALW) The city of Oakland issued 356,000 citations last year. That’s nearly 1,000 a day. Even counting repeat offenders, that’s a lot of angry citizens, and they are not shy about saying so: the office has a whole Yelp page devoted to bashing it. But this seemingly vast and hated bureaucracy? It’s actually only 14 people – total. Mitchell and her fellow cashier are the only two staff who work the windows. Which means that with a few exceptions, they’re the only ones dealing with the ticket-paying public, day in and day out.

Listen in with Casey Miner at KALW News.

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The Perils of Walking in San Francisco

Friday, July 15, 2011

Photo (cc) by Flickr user deevinebovine.

(San Francisco – KALW) At least 800 people are hit by cars every year in San Francisco. Pedestrian-car collisions account for almost a quarter of the city's trauma patients.

Why are the city streets so dangerous? KALW News reports on the perils of walking in SF.

The report describes dangerous unmarked, but legal and official, intersections, sans paint and lines. One pedestrian even describes the "dip and dart" where you start at one edge of an alley, where it intersects the main road, and walk into oncoming traffic to get to the other side. And that's the legal crosswalk.

"We have streets that are designed for the rapid movement of cars instead of for people to be able to get around safely on foot," says Elizabeth Stampe of WalkSF.

Listen to the full story at KALW News.

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SFpark Makes its First Move

Thursday, July 14, 2011

(San Francisco – KALW) San Francisco’s ambitious parking program will meet its first test later this month, when the city adjusts rates at meters in eight busy neighborhoods to try and better match supply and demand. The program, called SFpark, uses data from sensors embedded in the pavement to track parking demand in real time at meters around the city, and prices each block accordingly: meters in more congested areas are more expensive, while those on emptier streets are cheaper. City staff will make the first price adjustment later this month, based on data collected since the program’s official launch this past spring. The verdict? Prices at about one third of meters will go up by 25 cents to a high of $3.75/hr; another third will drop by 25-50 cents, to as low as $1.75/hr. The final third will remain the same, as will rates at city-owned garages.

SFpark manager Jay Primus said that while the preliminary data is fascinating, the really useful information will come out later this summer, when the city makes its second price adjustment.

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Transportation Nation

Later BART Service Could Slam Minority And Low Income Residents

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

BART train (photo by Miggslives/Flickr)

(San Francisco – KALW) The results of a passenger survey are in, and they could spell trouble for later weekend BART service.

Earlier this spring, the BART board directed staff to study the impact of changing the schedule (running the last train one hour later Friday nights and the first train an hour later Saturday mornings) on the system’s low-income and minority riders. After surveying nearly 2,000 passengers in multiple languages, staff found that those riders would indeed be disproportionately affected, complicating BART’s plans to move ahead with a fall pilot.

In brief: the survey found that 56% of Friday night riders are minorities, and 49% are low-income (note: the questionnaire did not address potential overlap). On Saturday mornings, 68% were minorities, and 53% low-income. Overall, 40% of Friday night riders were headed to or from work. On Saturday mornings, the number was 70%. Both percentages were significantly higher for low-income and minority riders.

Unsurprisingly, late-night Friday riders overwhelmingly supported extending the train schedule, with 81% of those surveyed in favor of the change. Only a quarter of Saturday morning riders felt the same, given that for them it would mean driving, carpooling, taking the bus, or being unable to reach work at all.

The survey did offer some unexpected insight into BART’s late-night passengers.

Conventional wisdom has it that the last Friday trains are full of partiers, but the survey showed this isn’t necessarily so. Only 14% of late-night passengers said they’d been out at bars or clubs; another 27% said they were visiting family or friends. Taken together, those groups exactly matched the number of riders going to or from work. BART board president Bob Franklin, who has pushed hard for the pilot project, found those numbers encouraging. “That’s the only argument against doing this: that you’re pitting discretionary riders against people going to work,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily hold up.”

Franklin said that he thought the survey was hampered by who it targeted – that is, people already riding BART, as opposed to those who might ride it if trains ran later. The low number of partiers, he said, might provide a clue, since many revelers presumably don’t ride BART because it closes so early. He thought the same might be true of many workers in the entertainment industry. “There’s a big variable that’s unaccounted for,” he said. BART would need to do an additional study to try and find those potential riders.

Franklin said he still wants the pilot to go forward, and that he doesn’t think the challenges are insurmountable. “If not now, then forget it,” he said. “There’s momentum to get it done now.” Though he said he had not yet decided exactly how to move forward, he would consider proposing either a BART-sponsored late-night bus service or hiring new part-time workers to help speed up maintenance. The maintenance staff have said repeatedly that their work window is non-negotiable – in other words, that any extension of service at night must mean later service in the morning. But Franklin and another BART director, Robert Raburn, disagreed. “I don’t think we asked the right questions,” said Raburn. “Instead of asking how we could impinge upon existing service, we should have looked at how we can work with our maintenance department to maintain the trains during a shorter window. That’s what’s going to be needed in order to provide better service.”

The board will discuss the findings at its meeting later this week. They might note the one thing Friday night and Saturday morning riders agreed on: they both thought trains should run more frequently on nights and weekends -- every 15 minutes instead of every 20.

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Transportation Nation

Should BART Run an Hour Later?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Flickr photo by richardmasoner. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/2933642042/

(San Francisco, CA – KALW) BART closes just after midnight every night of the week -- including on weekends, when people like to stay out late. It’s been that way for 35 years.

This year, the BART board wants to change that – just a little bit. They’re thinking about extending service by one hour on Friday nights, and making up for it by starting trains an hour later on Saturdays. The last train would leave San Francisco just before 1:30am. The first one would start the next morning at 7.

It might seem like a small change, but it could have big consequences. Listen to the story over at KALW News.

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Transportation Nation

Pricey Gas or No, Californians Get Out of Town

Friday, May 27, 2011

Yikes! Photo by Ben Trefny.

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) Gas prices are up! Or no, wait, maybe they’re down. Either way, a highly unscientific round of calls by TN suggests that Californians are finding ways to get out of town this Memorial Day weekend.

A recent survey by AAA found that while travel numbers aren’t exactly flying off the charts this year, neither are they declining. The survey predicts that just over four million Californians will travel 50 miles or more, a very slight increase over last year. What's more, nearly all of them will drive. AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said the numbers may reflect people’s desire to go on vacation no matter what: about a third of travelers are expected to stay with family and friends rather than in hotels.

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How Dangerous is Walking in Your Neighborhood?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Photo courtesy Transportation for America.

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) Walking around can be a harrowing experience – just ask anyone who's ever looked both ways, sent a prayer skyward and sprinted across a busy, crosswalk-free road. A new report by transportation advocacy group Transportation for America documents just how dangerous walking can be. Using a combination of census information and data from the Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Highway Administration, the report finds that more than 47,00 pedestrians were killed in the past decade; nearly 700,000 were injured.  The fatality numbers, said the report's authors, are the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every month. "If that happened, you can be sure there'd be no end to Congressional hearings and investigations," said Transportation for America director James Corless.

Within the numbers are some sobering racial and ethnic disparities: Latino pedestrians are 62% more likely to be killed than whites, while African-Americans are 73% more likely to be killed. Senior citizens of all races are at risk, but again, racial minorities are much more likely to die.

The report points out that while motor vehicle travel has generally become safer over the past 10 years – around the country, car accident fatality rates have fallen – in 15 of the country's largest metro areas, pedestrian deaths have increased. The report's authors attribute the problem to roads designed with only cars in mind: the most dangerous streets by far are major arterials, where speeding is common and pedestrian amenities rare.

Fixing these problems is relatively cheap: the report points out that changes as simple as lowering speed limits and adding crosswalks significantly reduce risk. But ultimately they advocate for government on all levels to design streets with a variety of uses in mind – what's known as a "complete streets" approach.

The top four worst regions are in Florida, followed by Southern California and Las Vegas. In the San Francisco Bay Area, which ranks 41st of 52 metro areas, 685 people died in the past ten years. Wondering how bad things are in your area? The group's got an interactive map where you can plug in your address and see for yourself.

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SF Will Charge Your Electric Car, for Free Until 2013

Monday, May 09, 2011

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced today that the city plans to encourage electric vehicle ownership – and calm "range anxiety" – by installing free charging stations in 19 city-owned garages and several other locations around the city, ranging from SFO airport to neighborhood branch libraries. The juice will flow freely until 2013, when the city will likely begin to price it. Full press release from the Mayor's office below.

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BART Board to Study Late-Night Service – And How it Affects Early Morning Riders

Thursday, April 28, 2011

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lumachrome

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) Would you want the local train to run an extra hour on Friday nights, if it meant it’d also have to start later on Saturday morning? That’s what BART staff will be asking both current and would-be riders over the next few weeks as they evaluate whether to try out running the later trains in a six-month pilot this fall.

Earlier today the Bay Area transit agency's board heard a staff report weighing the pros and cons of the demonstration project, which would see the last train leave San Francisco around 1:30am Friday nights, instead of 12:30am as it does now. The first Saturday morning trains would start their runs at 7am, instead of 6am. That may not be enough for the 23,000 people who want trains to run 24 hours –  in case you’re curious, here’s why they don’t – but it would be a landmark change for BART, which has not changed its schedule for more than 30 years.

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In the report, staff estimated that the change would come out roughly evenly in terms of ridership – they’d lose about 3,000 early-morning riders, but gain roughly 2,600 in late-nighters. But, they stressed, those numbers were educated guesses at best. Without significant public outreach, it’s impossible to know how many people would start using BART who don’t do so now. Several board members pointed out that it wasn’t just late-night partiers who would benefit: shift workers at hotels, restaurants, and the region’s airports could also take advantage of the changes.

Similarly, the agency has very limited data on who exactly uses the trains Saturday mornings. What information they do have suggests that people board throughout the system, but most get off in downtown San Francisco. Finding out who those people are, and what they’re doing on those mornings, is the next major step, and will be the focus of public outreach in the coming weeks.

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San Francisco Bike Accidents Rise Faster than the Rate of Cycling; Bay Citizen Maps Crash Data

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation; San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) Bicycling in San Francisco can be glorious - paths by the beach, hills with sweeping views of the bay, the ability to cycle in the middle of January without having to come up with creative ways to keep your hands warm.

But it's also rife with "anger, misunderstanding, and mistrust between motorists and cyclists," according to a report issued last year by a San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, which investigated the implementation of the city's bike plan. (Report here; pdf.) This sentiment is a huge issue and perhaps contributes to this jarring statistic: in San Francisco, bike crashes have grown 8% in the past two years--outpacing the growth in ridership, which was 3%. (By comparison, New York City, which has also seen a growth in cyclists -- saw bike crashes decline by 46% from 1996 to 2003.)

That San Francisco data is courtesy of a new comprehensive interactive map by the nonprofit news organization the Bay Citizen, which just released a data app called the "Bicycle Accident Tracker."  We asked Bay Citizen staff writer Zusha Elinson and web producer Tasneem Raja how they got the data - and what they've learned from crunching hundreds of accident reports. (They also began encouraging people to report accidents directly to the Bay Citizen.)

"The bikers, for the most part, think the cars are crazy. And the cars all think the bikers are crazy," said Elinson. They set about mapping every bike accident the San Francisco Police Department wrote a report for in the last two years.  But what constitutes a report-worthy bike accident throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the data crunching.

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Transportation Nation

SF and Points South: What Will Happen to Caltrain?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) We reported a few months back on the grassroots effort by riders to try and save Caltrain, the Bay Area’s commuter train system. It’s the only one of the Bay’s 28 (!) different transit agencies that doesn’t have a dedicated funding source; it’s facing a $30 million deficit and considering cutting train service by nearly half.

Luckily for Caltrain, it’s also the only Bay Area transit agency whose riders care so much that they’re willing to dedicate their weekends to figuring out how to save it. Last Saturday, citizen group Friends of Caltrain organized an all-day brainstorming summit whose attendees included everyone from workaday commuters to elected officials. Panels and breakout groups explored funding strategies—levying a gas tax, charging more for parking, adding onboard WiFi, and improving connectivity to other transit were among the suggestions. And they also talked about messaging: how to sell the idea of Caltrain to people who don’t ride it, and how to convince policymakers that the rail is worth saving.

SF Streetsblog has more.

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The High-Tech Bus Is The Fastest Growing Form of Intercity Transportation

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Bolt Bus boards on New York's 33rd Street (Alex Goldmark)

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) While the nation's attention is focused on high-speed rail, another mode of travel has been quietly expanding – and expanding, and expanding, and expanding. Intercity, curbside bus services like Megabus, Bolt Bus, and the ubiquitous Chinatown buses have grown dramatically over the past several years, according to a study by researchers at DePaul University. Right now, write co-authors Joseph Schweiterman and Lauren Fischer, they are America's fastest-growing mode of transport.

Schweiterman describes these buses as "feisty, low-cost services," easy investments for anyone with the capital to buy some buses and increasingly attractive to travelers weary of long airport delays and TSA pat-downs. What's more, they allow those travelers to bring their lifestyles with them: even the cheapest services offer free on-board WiFi, still a rarity on most airlines and an impossibility while driving.

This isn't a trivial detail: Schweiterman estimates that 40 percent of travelers on any given bus are using a portable electronic device of some kind. "This means sitting on a bus for five hours is not a death sentence," he says. And that means more people are getting in on the action, including business travelers who normally might scorn a cheap ride.

What does this mean for high-speed rail? Schweiterman, who also heads up the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, says the two forms of transport could potentially complement each other, especially in big states like California where traveling between big cities by road – no matter how luxurious the ride – still takes six to eight hours. But the fact that buses are so cheap, and that they require virtually no investment in new infrastructure, is a huge mark in their favor. "The curbside operators are getting really good at getting you to spend  an extra hour or two traveling in exchange for a low-stress environment," he says.

Read the full-study here.

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Transportation Nation

The Many Voices of BART

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Communications specialist Berta Villalva is one of the voices behind BART announcements (photo by Casey Miner)

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) A few months back, the New York Times profiled Carolyn Hopkins, aka the subway announcement lady. It got me thinking: who's the voice of BART? Turns out, there's a few of them. And yes, they're talking to you. Hear what they have to say over at KALW News.

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Despite Controversy, SF Supes Vote to Study Congestion Pricing

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) It's a controversial plan, but the city of San Francisco is pushing ahead anyway: this morning, the board of supervisors voted to continue studying several options for congestion pricing cordons in the northeast corner of the city. The options include a $3 toll to enter and leave the cordoned area during especially busy times; alternatively, commuters who parked downtown all day would pay a $6 toll upon leaving. A third option, which would have charged drivers to enter the city from the south, was scrapped after politicians from Peninsula city councilmen to a state Assemblyman threatened a counter-toll. Don't hold your breath, though – the earliest anyone will pay to drive into the Financial District is 2015.

I interviewed Matthew Roth of Streetsblog SF about why it's so controversial to price driving; hear our conversation over at KALW News.

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Drive Less? Pay Less

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) Have a car, but don't drive it that often? Starting in February, that means you could pay less for your car insurance in California. Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner announced that two insurance companies, State Farm and the Automobile Club of Southern California, would offer plans that allowed drivers to report their own mileage and pay significantly lower premiums for driving less.

Approaching car insurance this way has obvious benefits--among them fewer accidents and reducing greenhouse gases. But it also gives insurers some leverage with infrequent drivers, who might be on the fence about continuing to own a car. Especially in cities like San Francisco, where car-sharing is increasingly popular (and personal car-sharing is starting up), an option like this could keep people from ditching their wheels.

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California Selects Controversial High-Speed Rail Route

Thursday, December 02, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) The California High-Speed Rail Authority voted today to select a route from Madera to Corcoran as the first segment of the planned statewide system.

From the press release:

The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board voted today to begin construction of the system connecting Los Angeles to the Bay Area in the heart of the state’s Central Valley, choosing an option that makes the best use of available funding and lays the foundation for expanding the track both north and south.

“We are building a statewide system. We’re in the business of connecting major metropolitan centers across our state, and we won’t have a true high-speed rail system until we tie every part of this state together,” said Authority Vice Chair Tom Umberg. “It’s not one town or one region versus another; it’s about connecting one region to another. ‘’

This route selection is controversial –- it's a hybrid of the two Central Valley sections previously under consideration, Merced-Fresno and Fresno-Bakersfield. You can hear me discuss some of the politics and roadblocks confronting the project over at KALW News.

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Congestion Pricing Reducing Rush Hour Delays to Half of Previous Level

Thursday, August 12, 2010

(San Francisco, Casey Miner, KALW) It wasn't so long ago that carpooling on the Bay Area's bridges was free. Alas, those days are no more. As of July 1, tolls rose on all Bay Area bridges. Carpooling now costs $2.50; the regular toll is $6 (up from $4). It's an experiment with congestion pricing: Local transit officials are betting they can reduce traffic by making it more expensive to drive during the most crowded times of day.

The data is still coming in, but so far the plan seems to be working. On the Bay Bridge, rush hour delays have fallen by nearly half. There have been some other interesting results as well—for example, 12,000 fewer cars drove through the carpool lanes last month.

So where did all those commuters go? More this evening, on KALW News' Crosscurrents.

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