With the new year comes a new hike in bridge tolls on seven state-owned bridges in the Bay Area. And this hike will put rush-hour tolls on the Bay Bridge at a whopping $8 per car — a 167% increase from the $3 we were paying in 2003.

It's been expensive to cross the Golden Gate Bridge for quite a few years now, but other bridges in the region are quickly catching up. And starting on Saturday, the standard toll on all seven state-owned bridges around the Bay will be $7, and it will go up to $8 during all normal commuting hours — between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Carpoolers will still get a break, and tolls will be $3.50 for cars with three or more passengers on the Bay Bridge, or two or more passengers on the San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges.

The toll hike also effects the Antioch, Richmond, Carquinez, and Benicia-Martinez bridges.

This is the second of three toll hikes approved by voters via Regional Measure 3 in 2018, with the first $1 hike having already taken effect in 2019. Tolls will rise another $1 in 2025 for a total of a $3 rise in tolls from 2018, when the tolls had stood at $5 for nearly a decade. The measure is intended to raise $4.45 billion over 25 years to fund regional transit projects, including the BART extension into downtown San Jose, and a more permanent ferry landing at Mission Bay to service the Chase Center.

As the Mercury News reports, not everyone is happy about this — especially, obviously, drivers who don't have a choice but to commute by car. As one driver, David Miller, who commutes from the East Bay to Menlo Park tells the paper, "It’s unfair, [because] people that are dependent on going over the bridges are a minority and get outvoted," and those people paying the higher tolls likely won't get the benefit of the transit improvements they're paying for.

The money from the tolls is also caught up in a legal mess and could still end up getting refunded to toll-payers, if the anti-tax Republican plaintiffs in a 2019 lawsuit get their way. The suit was shot down by both San Francisco Superior Court and an appeals court, as the Mercury News previously reported, but in 2020 it was revived when the California Supreme Court agreed to hear it. At issue, according to plaintiffs Randall Whitney, an Oakland-based property manager, and the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is that the toll hike is essentially a tax, not a "fee" as it was framed, and as a tax it would have needed approval of two-thirds of voters, not a simple majority.

Until that suit is resolved, hundreds of millions of dollars being collected from the 2019 toll hike and the upcoming one is sitting unused in a bank account.

"It’s really frustrating that a fringe Republican group has basically held up the will of the voters," said Nick Josefowitz, vice-chair on the Metropolitan Transit Commission, in a statement to the Mercury News. "It’s an ideological effort that’s having profound impacts on folks who are just trying to get around the Bay Area."

Photo: Tyler Casey