7 On Your Side checks in on Golden Gate Bridge electronic tolling

July 15, 2013 10:44:41 PM PDT
It's been three months since the Golden Gate Bridge replaced human toll takers with all-electronic tolling. Most drivers use FasTrak, but thousands of cars a year sail through and get billed later. So how is that working?

The Golden Gate Bridge District says 99 percent of drivers pay their tolls with no problem. But what about the other 1 percent? Some motorists say they paid their toll by mail and got a penalty anyway.

Stephanie Lachtman of Menlo Park thought she could still pay the toll with cash. Instead a camera snapped a picture of her license plate. The district was supposed to send her a toll invoice, but two months later, she still hasn't received one. Now she's worried.

"If somehow they believe they've invoiced me and I'm delinquent and time goes on, I'm worried about that," Lachtman said.

Paying the $6 toll also got very complicated for Linda Alvarez of Half Moon Bay. She received a toll invoice and she mailed off a check right away. However, she got in trouble anyway.

"I got a notice of violation, toll violation; I'm a toll violator," Alvarez said.

The notice said she never paid the toll. She now had to pay a $25 penalty, or face an even bigger fine later.

So what happened? Turns out the bridge district never cashed her check. Customer service told her to ignore the violation. But how could she?

"It's not a gentle notice you get; you get, 'you have broken the law you owe us $30 and if you don't pay it on time,'" Alvarez said.

Bridge district spokesperson Mary Currie says there were glitches in the new system that now are resolved. The bridge district sent out 416,000 invoices in the first three months of the new system. Payments were not recorded fast enough, which triggered the toll violation notices. Extra workers were hired to clear the backlog and Currie says only about 400 motorists received violation notices by mistake. They will not have to pay a penalty.

Then there are the motorists who never received invoices. Currie says they may have thrown them out because they looked like junk mail. Now the district has added an orange stamp to clearly state what's in the envelope. Her best advice? Open a FasTrak or license plate account to automatically pay your tolls.

Still, folks like Lachtman and Alvarez do miss the simplicity of handing over cash.

"I really miss the nice people that you could say hello to how's your day and they'd take your money and you were done," Alvarez said.

If you have trouble with a toll payment, contact the bridge district:
Bay Area FasTrak Customer Service Center
475 The Embarcadero (at Broadway)
San Francisco, CA 94111
Telephone: 1-877-229-8655
Hours of Operations: Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.


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