Golden Gate Bridge toll takers at risk of elimination

January 10, 2011 7:46:53 PM PST
If you have a favorite toll taker on the Golden Gate Bridge, savor every trip, because by 2012, he or she could be gone.

On Thursday, district administrators will propose to its Board of Directors a plan that would automate all collections, making the bridge cashless, and the toll booths, human-less.

"We love our toll takers. They're family," said bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie. "But, this would save $19.2 billion over eight years, and we face an $89 million deficit. Bridges around the world are moving in this direction."

The Golden Gate Bridge employs 38 toll takers who earn roughly $26 an hour. The district notes that some are due for retirement, and it hopes that others might find other jobs on the bridge.

"If our board goes down this path, we're going to be treating them like members of our family. We're going to try to work with them and their unions to find other opportunities within the bridge district," says bridge manager Kary Witt.

However, none of those toll takers sound happy about it.

"This is all I really know how to do," said Ben Ramirez, who has worked the bridge for 15 years. "We are the first faces people see when they come to San Francisco. We welcome them to the city. It's very unsettling for me and for my family."

The Board of Directors could vote on Thursday, or put the idea off for further study. It is not a slam dunk. One director, who declined to go on record, expressed concerns, and said he is not alone in those sentiments. He is waiting to hear a full report, however, before deciding.

The Golden Gate Bridge would collect tolls electronically by using FasTrak, or by scanning license plates, and billing drivers later.

As the bridge staff sees it, one benefit would be less congestion for the 20 million cars passing south, each year.

"We think it will significantly improve traffic flow, particularly on weekends when we have a large number of cash-paying customers," says Witt.

Sixty-seven percent of those weekend cash customers already use FasTrak. For the rest, it's welcome to the new millenium.