The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has inherited a system for collecting unpaid bridge tolls that is pushing thousands of Bay Area residents into a cycle of debt. This system disproportionately harms lower-income and working people by relying on punitive tools like fines, fees and car registration holds — which stop someone from legally registering their car until they pay a debt — all to promote toll payment. The switch to all-electronic tolling, made for safety reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic, has increased the number of unpaid tolls and exacerbated the problem, especially for essential workers who can’t telecommute.
As the commission looks to build a more effective and equitable system, SPUR recommends a series of actions to help reduce the harm of the unpaid toll system and begin to move toward an equitable tolling system. These changes, many of which MTC is already considering or has implemented on a temporary basis, would create immediate solutions to this inherited problem. MTC is in the unique position to become a national leader on tolling systems. As the commission commits to centering equity in its work, there is a special opportunity to make the unpaid toll system more collaborative, less punitive and aimed at repairing past wrongs.