Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Too Much for Registration, Crosswalk Clarification, Cops Riding in Circles + More

September 23, 2013 14:00 pm · 47 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every Monday at 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.

Email your questions to

COMMUTER: I have a question – why does it cost so dang much to register a vehicle in California? Nevada passenger vehicles cost $33 per year, Washington passenger vehicles $46 per year. I know the excuse will be for road maintenance, but the Bay Area has some of the worst roads I have seen, and I have been all over the country. So why is it so expensive?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Well, BCuzItzClaycord, this question bears further investigation. Just for starters, here’s some basic information: Registration fees fund state and local programs aimed at air quality, road safety, road maintenance and construction, freeway service patrols and emergency call boxes.

The basic registration fee is $46. The California Highway Patrol fee is $23. This money is used by the CHP and the Department of Motor Vehicles to offset costs.

The Vehicle License Fee varies. The formula for this fee is based upon the purchase price of the vehicle or the value of the vehicle when acquired. The VLF decreases with each renewal for the first 11 years. The DMV returns almost all vehicle license fee revenue to the cities and counties.

The Smog Abatement Fee is $20. The CountyFee – collected by the DMV on behalf of city/county associations, air quality management districts and other governmental agencies – varies. The fee for a personalized plate varies.

This still doesn’t really explain why it’s so ding-dong-dang expensive. The Jammer will continue to pursue this and post more information as she gets it. Thanks for a great question, BCuzItsClaycord!

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Last week the Jammer published a question about crossing at an intersection and whether a vehicle can start moving through the crosswalk when the pedestrian has almost reached the curb on the other side. My verdict was that if the pedestrian is a mere foot or so from the curb, you should be OK. But a Claycordian added a comment that the Jammer wanted to share:

COMMUTER: Don’t push the crosswalk thing. I learned the hard way, that a person in the crosswalk is IN the crosswalk until they are NOT in it any more. I had an officer in WC ticket me because I proceeded thru the intersection, after the pedestrian had cleared my side of the street and was nearly to the curb from the opposing traffic direction. When I claimed that I went well after the pedestrian had cleared me, I was told that they must be completely through the other side!


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Claycordians, note that this happened in Walnut Creek – not to say you shouldn’t be careful anywhere. But it’s something to keep in mind. Anon2you’s experience trumps the Jammer’s earlier pronouncement. If this happened to Anon2you, it might happen to any one of us, so let’s make sure those pedestrians get all the way out of the crosswalk before proceeding.

COMMUTER: I am really confused. This morning while waiting in line around outside at 7:30 a.m. at the Walnut Creek office of the DMV, I saw two CHP officers on motorcycles pull in to the lot where traffic circles are painted on the asphalt, and do circles there for about five minutes. What’s going on? They looked rather silly going around and around this long; they might get dizzy!

–Puzzled in Walnut Creek

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Sounds like these dedicated public servants are practicing turning in small areas, making sure their skills are sharp. The Jammer actually graduated from the Motorcycle Safety Training program and has a valid motorcycle license and a Honda CB 400 Four Super Sport, and believe me, those tight turns are tough.

(To be honest, the Jammer no longer rides and is by no means an expert, but this is the answer that most readily came to mind. Motorcyclists, what do you say?)

COMMUTER:  I have a bunch of  paper BART tickets, each one worth 5 cents to 75 cents, mouldering in the drawer. Is there some way to get a refund or put the whole amount on my Clipper card?

–Papered Over

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Claycordians all, the Jammer is sure you already know that the Clipper card is the awesome handy-dandy transit card that can be used for BART, AC Transit, SF MTA and a whole bunch of other Bay Area buses and trains. It’s a lot more fun than struggling with those paper tickets and the annoying ones with small leftover amounts that poor Paper Over is trying to get rid of.

Papered Over, you can get all those paper tickets consolidated into one paper ticket, though you can’t transfer the money to your Clipper card.

In order to get all those nickel-and-dime fares consolidated into one ticket, you must show up at the Bay Fair, Civic Center, Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell or Walnut Creek station, or at the BART Treasury at 12th Street/Oakland City Center, BART tells us.

Of course, this being BART, the actual time of day and days of the week you can do this differ from station to station; for the details, CLICK HERE.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by at 2pm for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to

1 Sacto Rob September 23, 2013 at 2:19 PM

“Registration fees fund state and local programs aimed at air quality, road safety, road maintenance and construction, freeway service patrols and emergency call boxes.”
You know they have all those things in Washington and Nevada (the compared states) too, right?
Registration fees in CA are comparatively high because Californa government is run VERY poorly. Case in point? How about the Bay Bridge? A five year, one billion dollar bridge ended up taking 25 years and more than six billion dollars. And instead of people losing their jobs over such gross misuse of public funds, they stretched out the project so long that a Cal Trans employee could literally have spent his or her entire “career” on that ONE project and end up retiring with a bigger pension than most people bring home from actually working. Multiply that example throughout state government, and you start to see why we pay the highest taxes and fees of all 50 states, but get so little for our money.

2 Jojo potato September 23, 2013 at 2:20 PM

To get the tickets combined the total must be a multiple of $5 and can only give back paper tickets. The guy in the booth has no actual money to give for change. There is a way to mail in the tickets but there is a charge and I know several people who sent them in and got nothing. Bart claimed they never received them. Yet another Bart ripoff.

3 Not a Commercial Driver September 23, 2013 at 2:20 PM

I have always owned a pick-up truck, and have always hated the fact that I pay almost twice as much as any other vehicle of similar value. Why must all pick-ups have commercial plates and pay additional weight fees? I’m sure that any full sized SUV like a suburban weighs as much or more than my truck, yet they aren’t subject to the additional fees. I’ll be registering my six year old truck this month, and the total is just under $600! What a rip off! I use this as a daily driver and to haul home improvement projects, kids, and pets around town, none of which is for profit or as a commercial driver.

4 Connie Dobbs September 23, 2013 at 2:23 PM

What year’s your Super Sport?

5 Crosswalks September 23, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Once again, the vehicle code says you have to yield the right of way to pedestrians. It does NOT say they have to be completely clear of the crosswalk before you may proceed. If you get a ticket for driving through an intersection behind a pedestrian (assuming no other cars are stopped to let the pedestrian cross), you should fight it.

6 Janis Mara September 23, 2013 at 3:14 PM

@Connie Dobbs #4, it’s 1978.

@Sacto Rob #1, I am in complete agreement with you about the Bay Bridge. The story of the colossal egos of the politicos involved that drove up the price and put construction decades behind schedule is not a pretty one.

@Jojo Potato #2, I will ask BART about the points you raised. There are all these really silly rules about consolidating one’s BART paper tickets. I believe there’s a limit on how many tickets you can consolidate, which makes no sense.

7 anon September 23, 2013 at 3:26 PM

“Why must all pick-ups have commercial plates and pay additional weight fees?”

put a camper n it & you can have regular plates

8 anon 2 September 23, 2013 at 3:40 PM

Anon we have a camper shell on ours and have commercial plates.

@Sacto Rob couldn’t agree more about the Bay Bridge – and our politicians want to name it after Willie Brown??? Give me a break! We do seem to have a useless bunch in Sacramento. You never hear of any of them saving the public and the state any money.

9 Expensive Reg? Really?!?!?! September 23, 2013 at 3:44 PM

I have a car here in Concord and a car garaged at my home in Arizona. They are releatively close in value and age, but the car in AZ is $432 a year to register and the California car is $191.

10 Connie Dobbs September 23, 2013 at 3:51 PM

Mine’s a ’75. It’s like having a yacht. They just eat fuses.

11 Dude with a Pickup September 23, 2013 at 4:09 PM

Ok, the comments about pickup trucks having commercial plates raises an interesting question. Since commercial trucks can park in yellow zones at almost any time of day for a “short” period of time, can anyone with a pickup do that? What if I put a sign in the window that says “delivery” and then hang out at the local sports pub for a game? Since its a commercial zone and there’s no meter to say how long I’ve been parked there, how would they enforce any parking violation?

12 Anon 2 September 23, 2013 at 4:09 PM

Anon my husband just looked up the vehicle code and it says if you have a camper permanently attached you don’t have to get commercial plates.

13 Janis Mara September 23, 2013 at 4:15 PM

@Connie Dobbs #10, you go, girl!

@Dude with a Pickup #11, interesting question. If you decide to investigate, let us know how it goes :-)

14 Buck Million September 23, 2013 at 4:16 PM

I was wondering the same thing Connie. My first street bike was a 1974 Honda 400-4 Super Sport.

Regarding the CHP doing circles … Riding within the lines at the edge of the circle is part of the Motorcycle training course and test to get a M/C license.

Regarding the bart tickets, the whole system is so antiquated. When the bridge was down I rode it to work for 4 days. Finally on the 4rth day I figured out how to buy a ticket for the exact fare you needed and even that is a joke. 99% of the people that don’t have the clipper card buy tickets for 10 or 20 dollars. You end up with all these cards worth .20, 1.10, 1.30 etc. Most of the time you can barely read what the remaining amount is. On my 4rth day I thought I had more than enough for my round trip but apparently I was short. She asked my how much I was short and I had not a clue. She ran it on something and said 65 cents. I had 65 cents on me but she said just to go through the side gate. It obviously wasn’t worth the effort to fix it the right way. If you want to consolidate tickets or exchange them go check out their Refunds and exchange page. It is the most confusing mess you will ever read. Not even a glimmer of consistency AT ALL with any process.

The policy ‘Jojo Potato” was talking about is:

Tickets with minimal values can be consolidated into a larger single ticket. Please note the following restrictions:

Additional cash may be required;
12th Street will consolidate tickets to the nearest dollar i.e. $2, $3, $4 etc. All other locations will consolidate to the nearest five dollar i.e. $5, $10, $20;
Maximum of 30 tickets per transaction;
Tickets submitted for exchange must have been purchased by cash or debit card;
Tickets purchased with a credit card must be processed for a refund by a Station Agent; and
No cash refunds.

^That is just one small part of the policy.

15 Not a Commercial Driver September 23, 2013 at 4:17 PM

@ Anon

Yeah, I’m aware of using a shell or camper to avoid the extra fees, and I do have a shell. However, if I were to take it off for a large load, I wonder what the fine would be for not paying commercial fees.

16 RunnerDope September 23, 2013 at 4:31 PM

So when is that ding-dong-dang 4th tunnel gonna open for business?

17 busted knuckle September 23, 2013 at 4:34 PM

Motorcycle riding skills are something you have to practice on a regular basis. One of the hardest things to do is make those circles in the lines as slow as possible with your feet on the pegs. It is all part of coordinating throttle brake balance and lean angles. These are skills that is wish I could practice more often but I don’t have the same resources as CHP, if I fall over and break my motorcycle, I pay for it. I the CHP breaks theirs we pay for it.

18 @busted knuckle September 23, 2013 at 4:53 PM

You can go to the parking lot at the DMV in Walnut Creek on the weekends or whenever they are closed and practice all you want. When I was getting my license, I tried the course without practicing and my feet touched twice. The observer recommended that I come after hours and practice – knowing that I had no license or other way to get my bike there.

I’m not sure if DMV in Concord has the motorcycle course or not.

19 Dorothy September 23, 2013 at 5:17 PM

BART will also take into consideration if the ticket you turn in is a discount ticket or not and prorate the leftover amount accordingly. Another option is that they will take the ticket you give them and donate to someone in need.

But let me tell you about my DMV experience this morning! Because of prior experience with the DMV I expected to long morning there. I had made an appointment but the last time I was there I was told I couldn’t sign in until 15 minutes before the appointment time and come back to the line at that time. I was about 20 minutes early and expected to be told to wait the extra 5 minutes. No line to check in, surprise! No wait to be called to the window, shock! Quick eye test and sent over to have picture take. Picture was done in about 2 minutes. Test was only 18 questions, all easy. Given a temporary license until my new one comes (but my old one is still good for a while). Start to finish at the DMV was about 20 minutes. I was out the door before my official appointment time. Sometimes things go right.

20 elouise September 23, 2013 at 5:46 PM

@Runner Dope
I’m pretty sure the tunnel is not opening. You would have to ask Janis about this.

21 Killjoy September 23, 2013 at 5:49 PM

My first bike was a Kawasaki LTD1000. It would do 85 in second gear and had three more. But the speedo only went to 85.
When I took my test in Walnut Creek, driving the loop, I ended up almost dropping my bike (yes, I took the test on my LTD) so I goosed the throttle to pull out of it, and the guy passed me anyway.
I still keep my license current, but no longer own a motorcycle. But a buddy of mine lets me take one of his out every now and again.

22 annon September 23, 2013 at 5:51 PM

A)We’re in a highly populated, expensive state to live in. Time again the electorate has voted in favor of lower taxes. To make up for that the state raises fees. YOU may feel you pay high taxes, but as an example my in-laws pay $200/yr pre-prop 13 property tax for a house in SF. The state practically loses money every time they back out of their driveway. I’m in higher education where tuitions have skyrocketed because the state cannot pay what it used to. (& still higher fees do not cover the cost of a student’s education).It’s either higher taxes for all or higher fees folks.

B) reported on a crosswalk sting operated by CPD a year or two ago. I happened to see it. The plainclothes officer was standing just off the curb in the sidewalk. He was not attempting to cross, he was just standing there. They were pulling people over all over the place. Morale: stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk no matter where they are, what they are doing, or what direction they are facing or RISK getting a ticket.

23 Killjoy September 23, 2013 at 5:52 PM

As for pickup trucks parking in a loading zone, I don’t think they are going to ticket you, but it’s better if you have a sign with a CAL-T number.
Like the one I have. ;)
Yeah, I used to work for a courier company in San Francisco, and ended up with an extra sign when I left.
Pretty sure they are now out of business, so I doubt they’d mind that I have it.

24 DrDuran September 23, 2013 at 5:54 PM

Anon, Anon & Not a CD – a Camper and a Camper Shell are two different things. A Camper she’ll just covers the bed while a Camper takes up the whole bed and makes the truck an RV of sorts.

25 elouise September 23, 2013 at 6:22 PM

@busted knuckle
#18 is right, the DMV allows you to practice when they are closed. When my younger brother first got his bike, he used to practice at the race way in sonoma. I’m pretty sure there are other places for you to practice

26 Janis Mara September 23, 2013 at 6:23 PM

Fascinating motorcycle stories! I knew the moto guys and gals would come through … thanks so much to @Buck Million #14, @busted knuckle #17, @@busted knuckle #18 and @killjoy #21!

Also thanks to @Buck Million regarding all that ridiculous minutiae regarding BART paper tickets. The whole thing is practically tantamount to “wave a stalk of ginger root overhead beneath a full moon, chant “omnamyeroho” 15 times and sacrifice a virgin and you will get your BART tickets consolidated.”

Will look into opening date of Caldecott Tunnel fourth bore.

27 Jazzguy September 23, 2013 at 6:25 PM

Jammer- It’s really very simple-the reason for high registration fees is that we live in a democratic/socialist state like in European countries.There is no end of the “services” modern California offers.Somebody has to pay the bill, and it is us!
Its the same reason that gasoline and diesel fuel costs so much here. Cars cost more because the federal requirements aren’t good enough for Calutopia,so manufacturers have to add extra equipment.Everything costs more in California.The legislature turns all fee and license income into a money making machine,soaks the taxpayers, and then spends all of it and more.It’s absolutely habitual.
“If we can’t get a tax to pass, raise fees and permits.” Don Perata, former President Pro Tem of the State Senate.

28 @ Jojo Potato September 23, 2013 at 7:05 PM

I turned in about 5 tickets at the Concord BART station, requesting they be combined. The agent took them, gave me a receipt and said she’d send them to the office that deals with that, as the Concord station isn’t allowed to do it. It took 3-4 weeks, but BART sent me a refund check for $4.60.
Not sure what the official policy is, but that was my experience…..

29 caskydiver September 23, 2013 at 7:16 PM

Fees are high in California because squandering tax (or “fee”) money is what our legislature does best!! To be a little more specific, I can tell you some of that money went to issue a driver’s license to some who are in this country illegally, but God forbid we deny them a driver’s license.

Please…if you think fees are high, vote for people in office other than the ones you may have voted for in the past.

30 J. September 23, 2013 at 7:52 PM

Donate your B.A.R.T. “Tiny-Tickets” to A.R.F. (Animal Rescue Foundation):

Donate your tiny tickets to ARF! Tiny Tickets can be dropped off at the ARF headquarters or mailed to:
ARF, Attn: Tiny Tickets Program, P.O. Box 30215, Walnut Creek, CA 94598.

31 Janis Mara September 23, 2013 at 8:36 PM

Thanks, @J #30!

@Jojo, thanks for the note of hope!

32 Motorcycle Skills Training September 23, 2013 at 8:59 PM

Alameda County Sheriff Academy in Dublin offers Motorcycle Training to civilians at all skill levels. Taught by retired motor officers. It’s the best $200 you’ll ever spend. You’ll be a much safer and more confident rider and you’ll learn to turn way tighter circles than the lame 24′ circle that DMV requires. Motor officers have to make turns in 17′. They provide the motorcycles too so you don’t have to worry about dumping your own…

33 stella September 24, 2013 at 2:15 AM

@elouise #25
DMV does allow driving practice when it’s closed. At the different raceways, No matter where it is;-some other place out in yonderville;.you also have to get a permit to practice-which you usually get when you pay the fees; this depends on where it is and their scheduling. Someone has to take care of the raceways, and most of the fees go to maintenance, it can be pretty pricy. This information is all online.

34 Teacher Wannabe September 24, 2013 at 6:09 AM

@J #30. I didn’t think dogs and cats were allowed on BART :)

35 Jojo Potato September 24, 2013 at 8:39 AM

For some reason lost in the fog of time, when the BART ticketing system was designed it didn’t allow using old tickets plus cash to buy a new ticket. That would have eliminated all this current nonsense. I personally suspect that the BART management wants the leftover tickets as it is a pretty significant source of revenue. Several charities are collecting “tiny tickets” for donations. At least the ticketing system works dependably, built by IBM, unlike the trains when the system first started up.

36 Jojo Potato September 24, 2013 at 8:47 AM

Just found some numbers for unused BART tickets, this is from the CC times Queen of the road 5/22/2011.

“For fiscal year 2011, BART has $6.5 million worth of outstanding rides on the books — money owed for tickets purchased that have not been used.”

37 @Teacher Wannabe September 24, 2013 at 9:03 AM

I’m not sure about the policies-but we don’t bring our pets on BART.

38 Janis Mara September 24, 2013 at 2:04 PM

@J, I believe Teacher Wannabe was pulling your leg. Or your dog’s leg. Or a dogleg :-)

39 @Janis Mara September 24, 2013 at 3:14 PM

Any news on the tunnel?

40 Pure Vegan September 24, 2013 at 3:47 PM

#18, AFAIK, it is illegal to practice in any DMV driving area. At least, that is how it is in the east coast. They don’t want you to be familiar with the course in advance.

41 @Pure Vegan September 24, 2013 at 4:23 PM

Then what is one to do–just keep waiting? How will you become licensed to ride a motorcycle?

42 Janis Mara September 24, 2013 at 4:37 PM

@@Pure Vegan #41, well, you could take the Motorcycle Safety Training course, but I take your point. Will run this by the DMV.

@Janis Mara #39, my friend, I’ll drop this and other answers into the next column.

43 Pure Vegan September 24, 2013 at 4:46 PM

Well, I know for a car, you are supposed to have a licensed adult in the car with you so you can practice, but you can’t practice on the DMV course in New York, at least when i was learning to drive. That is a big no-no, and might be a ticketable offense. It’s in their rule book. Maybe for motorcycles, you have to practice doing circles on your own, in a parking lot. Maybe with an adult riding in back of you (on the same seat)?

44 Janis Mara September 24, 2013 at 5:16 PM

@Pure Vegan, what I did when I was learning was that I would ride on the back of the motorcycle to a parking lot with an experienced rider who would then get off the motorcycle and watch what I was doing and coach me.

As a beginner, I don’t think I would have liked to try to maneuver with someone sitting on the seat behind me. I was shaky enough as it was :-)

45 @Pure Vegan September 24, 2013 at 5:18 PM

That sounds about right. Practice makes perfect.

46 I'm The Urban Spaceman September 24, 2013 at 5:31 PM

Re#11 & Janis,

The Cops will chalk your tires come back in 20 minutes and issue a ticket.

>> (2) Loading Zone. “Yellow” means no stopping, standing or parking for any purpose other than the loading or unloading of passengers or materials to and from commercial vehicles making commercial deliveries, provided that the loading or unloading of passengers shall not consume more than three minutes nor the loading or unloading of materials more than twenty minutes, and unless the city traffic engineer has caused signs to be posted giving notice of a different period in which the restrictions shall apply, such restrictions shall apply between seven a.m. and six p.m. of any day except Sundays and holidays<<<

47 Janis Mara September 24, 2013 at 10:08 PM

Thanks, @Urban Spaceman! Great job as always.

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