Bay Area Traffic

New toll system on GG Bridge may cause confusion

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The automated toll system on the Golden Gate Bridge goes into effect next year. But the unmanned toll booths are sure to cause confusion behind the wheel.

The first trials of the electronic toll system have been pushed back a month. When it starts, crossing the bridge with FasTrak will be easy. But what's going to happen when non-FasTrak users and out of state drivers want to come into the city?

Starting in January, until March, you will be able to pay the toll by cash, FasTrak, and a brand new system that's associated with your license plate. But come March, it's a whole new world.

By march of next year, Golden Gate bridge toll takers, and the cash they collect, will be gone, "No cash will be accepted in the toll lanes," Golden Gate Bridge spokesperson Mary Currie. No cash, no stopping.

The Bridge District says it will save millions of dollars and traffic should move better than ever. After all, those cash transactions can take a while. We timed one at nearly an entire minute.

When asked if she knows how the new system will work, commuter Frances said, "I believe that everybody has to have some kind of electronic device, or they have to pull over and pay a fee."

Fellow Golden Gate Bridge commuter Max Hulberg added, "I would assume they'd have some kind of change machine where you could drop your change in there, or maybe dollar bills would be easier. You could insert it like a vending machine or something like that."

Well no, there will be no pulling over, no machines. When they say no cash, they mean it.

Options will include what now feels like good old fashioned FasTrak pre-paid accounts. Or you can pay cash for FasTrak at service centers.

Otherwise, billing will be tied to your license plate with a "pay-by-plate" account, or one-time payment handled online, or at payment kiosks throughout the Bay Area.

That one-time payment is good for 30 days or it must be settled within two days of your trip. If you don't do anything before driving through, a camera takes a picture of your plate and the registered owner gets a bill.

"That's weird, that just sounds really inconvenient," Hulberg said. "Like, if I were to use my friend's car I'd have to hook up his license plate. It just sounds really inconvenient."

Currie explains, "It's going to ask for the license plate, the state it's registered in. Then you get to select an effective date for your toll. This is where it gets a little tricky."

What about cars with no plates?

"Oh, I should know this," commuter Maria Martinez said. "I don't know, maybe there's a slush fund to cover those folks."

The Bridge District wants those people to pay up front as well, though it's unclear how they would be tracked down if they don't.

And for tourists in rental cars, Currie says, "The rental cars are in the system. It's a license plate charge and it's handled through rental car companies. Actually it's more confusing than that, but we'll leave it at that."

FasTrak really seems to be the way to go for simplicity sake, no matter how much or how little you use the bridge. Also with FasTrak you get a whole dollar off the $6 toll.

As for the toll takers, there are 14 remaining right now. They will either be absorbed into other jobs within the district, or the district says it's working with their union to try to make the transition as comfortable as possible

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Tags:
fastrak, golden gate bridge, driving, tourism, bay area traffic, heather ishimaru
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