Government Technology

Golden Gate Bridge to Study Cashless Toll System



April 12, 2010 By

Photo courtesy the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District


 

With hopes of closing a projected $132 million deficit and decreasing congestion, the operator of San Francisco's world-famous Golden Gate Bridge is considering moving toward a cashless toll system.

The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District on Friday, April 9, approved the study of a plan to have all tolls electronically collected by 2013. If approved, the bejeweled landmark would be the first California bridge with unmanned, electronic-only tolling booths, according to John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Bay Area (Calif.) Toll Authority.

"It's certainly a trend, there's no question about that," he said. "At this point, the challenges are technological rather than administrative."

The movement toward electronic tolling systems can be seen abroad and at home -- the E-470 outside Denver, facilities operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and the 407 Express Toll Road near Toronto are some examples of roadways that have gone exclusively electronic, according to the proposed plan. Others considering the switch include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"Planning for and operating in an all-electronic environment is becoming standard practice in the toll collection industry," the staff report stated.

Facing a projected $132 million deficit over the next five years, Golden Gate Bridge officials are seeking a cost-benefit analysis for systems used across the nation and in Europe compared to manual collection costs, Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

Toll collectors have been on the Golden Gate since it opened May 28, 1937, Currie said. The 35 workers currently make between $24 and $26 an hour, with medical, vacation and retirement benefits.

"Certainly from our auditing perspective, it's preferred to be all electronic," she said. "We want to look at what's already being done and be sure we're getting the right system for us -- in a cashless system, there's a lot more backroom work that needs to happen."

Those areas of study include the projected cost, schedule, toll collection hardware changes, signage, back-office processing upgrades and proposed toll policy changes, according to the approved study plan.

Already in place on the Golden Gate and most toll bridges in California's Bay Area, is the prepaid transponder FasTrak, an electronic toll collection system that allows drivers to prepay bridge tolls, eliminating the need to stop at the booth. If the plan is approved -- it's anticipated to be complete and back to the board in six months -- video license plate imaging would likely supplement FasTrak's services.

And FasTrak is already popular with regular Bay Area drivers, Currie said. Half of all drivers, and 70 percent of morning commuters, use the transponder, she said.

If the plan is approved, the Golden Gate would join the growing ranks of roads and bridges that have switched its toll collections to an all-electronic system.

One recent example of a toll road that's gone cashless is the E-470 just outside Denver, which also saw high rates of "express toll customers" like the FasTrak customers in California.

"It was not economically feasible to continue with the costs of operating toll booths 24/7," said E-470 Public Highway Authority spokeswoman Jo Snell. The new method was launched in two phases. The method was made available but not mandatory in January 2009 in order to get people comfortable with the license plate imaging toll. The second phase, in which paying cash was no longer an option, was implemented seven months later.

Communication issues remain the biggest challenge with the switch, Snell said. Drivers who receive toll bills via the mail (as is the case when one's license plate is captured by video), sometimes don't pay attention and are surprised when they receive violation notices, she said.

"I spent two years communicating the change to the public," she said. "But there's still a learning curve."


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Comments

Larry    |    Commented April 13, 2010

Many people who live in the Bay Area do not have transponders because they infrequently cross the bridges. I know they're saying they intend to use 'license plate cameras' and presumably they will send invoices to the addresses related to the registration of those vehicles, requesting a check for payment- but what will it cost to process these? Will they actually realize a savings? And what about the problems already seen with red light cameras on intersections and the lack of accuracy in those image collection systems? Sounds like a typical case of tripping over dollar bills to pick up nickels to me.

Larry    |    Commented April 13, 2010

Many people who live in the Bay Area do not have transponders because they infrequently cross the bridges. I know they're saying they intend to use 'license plate cameras' and presumably they will send invoices to the addresses related to the registration of those vehicles, requesting a check for payment- but what will it cost to process these? Will they actually realize a savings? And what about the problems already seen with red light cameras on intersections and the lack of accuracy in those image collection systems? Sounds like a typical case of tripping over dollar bills to pick up nickels to me.

Larry    |    Commented April 13, 2010

Many people who live in the Bay Area do not have transponders because they infrequently cross the bridges. I know they're saying they intend to use 'license plate cameras' and presumably they will send invoices to the addresses related to the registration of those vehicles, requesting a check for payment- but what will it cost to process these? Will they actually realize a savings? And what about the problems already seen with red light cameras on intersections and the lack of accuracy in those image collection systems? Sounds like a typical case of tripping over dollar bills to pick up nickels to me.

Loren    |    Commented April 13, 2010

Being a FasTrak user myself, I fully appreciate the system's convenience, and the cost savings it could bring to the City and State. However, I do feel it would be a mistake to eliminate all possibility of using cash to cross the bridge. There will always be a portion of the populace that leads very low-tech lives, without the desire or need to purchase a FasTrak. I think they should be able to cross the bridge without receiving a bill later, which can turn into a bigger hassle down the line for issues of non-payment, etc.

Loren    |    Commented April 13, 2010

Being a FasTrak user myself, I fully appreciate the system's convenience, and the cost savings it could bring to the City and State. However, I do feel it would be a mistake to eliminate all possibility of using cash to cross the bridge. There will always be a portion of the populace that leads very low-tech lives, without the desire or need to purchase a FasTrak. I think they should be able to cross the bridge without receiving a bill later, which can turn into a bigger hassle down the line for issues of non-payment, etc.

Loren    |    Commented April 13, 2010

Being a FasTrak user myself, I fully appreciate the system's convenience, and the cost savings it could bring to the City and State. However, I do feel it would be a mistake to eliminate all possibility of using cash to cross the bridge. There will always be a portion of the populace that leads very low-tech lives, without the desire or need to purchase a FasTrak. I think they should be able to cross the bridge without receiving a bill later, which can turn into a bigger hassle down the line for issues of non-payment, etc.

Anonymous    |    Commented April 13, 2010

How will they collect tolls from out-of-state residents and/or rental vehicles?

Anonymous    |    Commented April 13, 2010

How will they collect tolls from out-of-state residents and/or rental vehicles?

Anonymous    |    Commented April 13, 2010

How will they collect tolls from out-of-state residents and/or rental vehicles?

Anonymous    |    Commented April 14, 2010

I imagine that non-fastrak users who have expired registration may find extra fines included when they receive their toll bill. Fastrak and Video LP identification are already being used to track suspects' whereabouts - now they can also use it to crack down on unregistered vehicles and for BOLO suspects.

Anonymous    |    Commented April 14, 2010

I imagine that non-fastrak users who have expired registration may find extra fines included when they receive their toll bill. Fastrak and Video LP identification are already being used to track suspects' whereabouts - now they can also use it to crack down on unregistered vehicles and for BOLO suspects.

Anonymous    |    Commented April 14, 2010

I imagine that non-fastrak users who have expired registration may find extra fines included when they receive their toll bill. Fastrak and Video LP identification are already being used to track suspects' whereabouts - now they can also use it to crack down on unregistered vehicles and for BOLO suspects.

fm    |    Commented April 15, 2010

I only travel to San Francisco once a year. What an inconvenience having to buy a fastrack pass when I can just hand $6.00 to a toll taker once a year. The problem that is causing the deficit is that the Golden Gate Bridge District is also supporting the Larkspur ferry.

fm    |    Commented April 15, 2010

I only travel to San Francisco once a year. What an inconvenience having to buy a fastrack pass when I can just hand $6.00 to a toll taker once a year. The problem that is causing the deficit is that the Golden Gate Bridge District is also supporting the Larkspur ferry.

fm    |    Commented April 15, 2010

I only travel to San Francisco once a year. What an inconvenience having to buy a fastrack pass when I can just hand $6.00 to a toll taker once a year. The problem that is causing the deficit is that the Golden Gate Bridge District is also supporting the Larkspur ferry.

Lotus Landry    |    Commented February 26, 2013

Where do I get the special Tag for cash in Southern California so I don't have to shell out huge bucks for FasTrak to cross a bridge and get bills. Think I'll go to Vegas instead and skip the Southern Oregon Coast also.


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