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2 more reasons to drive less: $20 vehicle fee, 520 tolls coming soon

Seattle drivers learned more Monday about the growing costs of owning a car in this part of the Puget Sound as a new city council transportation board voted to impose a $20 vehicle license fee and state officials briefed council members on the new tolling that will begin on the 520 bridge in spring 2011.

The Seattle City Council’s Transportation Benefit District board Monday voted to approve the new $20 fee to help pay for the city’s transportation projects. It is expected to raise nearly $7 million annually.

This new annual cost will soon be joined by per-trip costs for anybody planning to drive to or from the Eastside starting this spring. Representatives from the Washington State Department of Transportation briefed Seattle’s City Council Monday morning on the plan to begin tolling 520. We’ve included video from the briefing, below. It begins around the 20-minute mark. The new tolls will be charged to drivers in an all-electronic system with no tool booths for both eastbound and westbound traffic. WSDOT will mail bills to drivers who don’t have the various payment devices in their vehicles. WSDOT says the final toll amounts have not yet been determined but that system is designed to handle variable tolling based on demand. One scenario discussed in the video features rates between $2.50 and $3.50 during the day. And, note, vehicles that end up paying by mail will get dinged an additional $1.50 per trip. We have also included some of the details of the plan published on the WSDOT Blog in this post about the new tolls:

You might have heard that all-electronic tolling on the SR 520 bridge begins in spring 2011. This means there will be no toll booths, no stopping and no hassles.

Not familiar with Good To Go!? It’s Washington state’s electronic toll collection system that lets you pay tolls without stopping. It’s the easiest and cheapest way to pay your toll. Drivers with Good To Go! passes will have the amount deducted from their prepaid account as they drive across the bridge.

To give drivers more options, we recently announced new Good To Go! toll passes. There’s a wide range of options available, from a permanent sticker to movable and specialty passes. Check out the new passes and get more information including prices.

Once you buy a pass and set up an account you’ll be able to use it on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, SR 167 HOT lanes and SR 520 bridge next spring.

We’ll photograph the license plates of those who don’t have a Good To Go! account and send a toll bill in the mail to the registered owner.

While toll rates for the SR 520 bridge have not been set, you can take a look at range of toll rates being considered (pdf 123 KB). Tolls will vary by time of day and you’ll pay the lowest toll rates if you have a Good To Go! account. The Washington State Transportation Commission will make a recommendation on toll rates later this fall, and a decision is expected in early 2011. Watch for public hearings to share your thoughts on the proposals.

To give drivers an alternative to paying the toll, King County Metro and Sound Transit have started adding nearly 130 bus trips a day across the SR 520 bridge. These service enhancements, along with park-and-ride and bus stop improvements, will give you more travel options when electronic tolling begins in spring 2011.

So, now that you know your options you have some time to think about what works best for you. Starting in January we’ll begin offering incentives to sign up. Be among the first to know about the special offers by signing up at for e-mail updates.

The tolling will begin as final planning for the construction of a new 520 bridge will be wrapping up. In the meantime, Eastside 520 changes for HOV and transit are already underway. You can learn more about the tolling here

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11 thoughts on “2 more reasons to drive less: $20 vehicle fee, 520 tolls coming soon

  1. A license fee doesn’t make anyone drive less unless they switch to having no car at all! Once you’ve paid the fee, 20 miles a day or 200 is all the same to the state — and many people will drive more because they want to ‘get the good from’ their expenditure. That’s part of the problem with lots of our car system, e.g., buying insurance by the year.

    And the 520 fee (whoa, I missed that becoming *legal*) is there to let the state build a heinously huge, car-centric bridge (unless I missed them becoming thrifty). More roads doesn’t lead to less driving.

  2. We should set tolls high enough so that only 4 lanes are necessary. Users pay closer to their fair share, and we aren’t stuck with a heinously huge bridge.

  3. I was going to say exactly what clew already said – it’s not “drive less” it’d be not driving at all if you dont pay the fee.

    Here’s a thought, how about making Metro not suck? Perhaps having buses that run on time and more often and not throwing people to the ground at red lights. And that light rail… how was that thing not built, like, 25 years ago?

  4. Absolutely! I live on the hill and work in downtown Bellevue, literally next to the transit center. Driving takes me 20-25 minutes at the time of day I go in. The bus would take over an hour, involve a transfer, and really isn’t much/any cheaper even considering the tolls. I’d love to use public transit, but it’s not worth my time, money, or hassle.

    People aren’t going to get out of their cars while the alternatives are worse.

    Edit: forgot to mention – there is a typo in paragraph 3 (tool booths).

  5. Light rail wasn’t built long ago (actually about 35-40 years ago now) because the voters didn’t approve the ballot measure. The Federal money was already in Seattle’s pocket – only the ballot stood in the way. The joke for awhile afterwards was, ‘you want to ride Seattle’s rail system, go to Atlanta’. That’s where the Fed $$ went when it was pulled from Seattle.

  6. @songstorm I too live on the hill and work very close to the Bellevue transit center, and I take the bus everyday. Yes, I agree, it takes more time, but it is quite convenient with buses running every 10-15 minutes in peak hours, and it’s a great deal cheaper than owning a car (even though I pay for my own bus pass). So when you say “it’s not worth my time, money, or hassle” — you know what, it’s fine if you don’t want to ride the bus, but don’t post poorly thought out excuses.

  7. @what_now, I’m happy that the bus works for you and your schedule.

    You might have noted I don’t work during peak hours and therefore I can often be at work or nearly by the time the bus would reach 520. Other factors in my life make it not very sensible to go car-free, and therefore since I have a car anyway, it makes far more sense to commute by car rather than put up with the time/expense/hassle of the bus. If there were a better public transit option, I would probably not use the car on my daily commute. Right now, it’s not convenient for me, which is why I don’t use it.

  8. The 25 year(or thereabouts) delay in building the light rail has been questioned. FWIW, back in the late 60’s I delivered the Seattle PI on my Capitol Hill route. Remember a full page ad that showed rush hour traffic and asked readers to guess where the the photo had been taken. If I’m not mistaken, most readers thought it was a photo of Los Angeles during rush hour. It wasn’t. It was Seattle during rush hour. Not a big fan of politicians, but really don’t blame them for the situation today. Although not a big fan of light rail or the Paul Allen streetcar, preferring bus rapid transit, any delay going forward will result in more congestion and greater cost.

  9. @songstorm I appreciate your reasonable response. I understand that transit isn’t a great alternative for people who don’t work peak hours — a few years ago I was working a shift from 5 pm to 2 am regularly, and being without a car was challenging to say the least. But for a lot of people, transit can work and does work. Yes, there’s a lot of things Metro can do better (of course!). But the comments about how Metro “sucks” and buses don’t run on time (vanessaau, not you), and about how riding the bus is a hassle and it’s a poor alternative to driving — those comments drive people away from transit options that may very well work for them. (Haha, “drive people away.”)

    The more people who are encouraged to ride the bus, the more people who are out of their cars to make *your* commute easier. Win-win, right?

  10. “How stupid that the government is forcing us off our roads. What a crock!”

    It’s that, or have you drive straight into Lake Washington. Are you that uneducated about why this is happening?