Converting old radio systems into digital has been a headache in the past for many government and law enforcement jurisdictions. Now, the Golden Gate Bridge District is having trouble with their radio systems for bridge operations, security officers, bus and ferry services. ABC7 News has learned that its first test did not go well.
In March, drivers on the Golden Gate Bridge experienced something new -- the human toll collectors were gone. The bridge became a digital toll system. Now, the district is set to dump its antiquated analog radios for a new state-of-the-art digital system. The goal was to enable bridge security patrols, the Golden Gate buses and ferries to communicate with each other.
Bridge manager Kary Witt was not available for an interview on camera. He said by phone, "We're in the very, very early stages... it's going exceptionally well. I'm pleased. It's a big learning curve."
However, it was in 2008 -- five years ago -- when the bridge district awarded the contract to begin work on the new system that Witt says is still in the early stages. Then in 2010, the digital site went on the air, which meant the bridge radio dispatchers could start using the new system three years ago, but it was still inoperable.
Oakland public safety system advisor David Cruise was on the original project team. He told us, "They may be dealing with a lot of vendor integrations over there and that very well may be one of the complexities that they're dealing with." Cruise helped solve that city's police radio problems last year -- a constant problem that frustrated patrol officers trying to communicate with dispatchers. "We had a lot of different issues. Operations and maintenance being one, cellular interference being another."
Early last week, the bridge district finally began converting its systems. It started with the bridge security patrol officers, but there was a glitch. They're now back using the old analog repeaters. Bus drivers tell ABC7 News, they're not even close to converting. Their union says they haven't even been trained to use digital equipment.
Witt says the glitch that caused the failure of the patrol officers' digital radios turned out to be a faulty microphone.
Our sources with knowledge of the project say there appear to be more serious problems with the system. Total cost of the project is more than $20 million.