Study to examine benefits of electronic tolling at Bay Area bridges

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ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Study to examine electronic tolling at Bay Area bridges
The days of paying your bridge tolls in cash could soon come to an end. Bay Area leaders took a step in that direction Wednesday.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The days of paying your bridge tolls in cash could soon come to an end. Bay Area leaders took a step in that direction Wednesday.

If you've ever been stuck at the toll plaza during rush hour traffic, you know what this is about. Paying your tolls in cash is slow, and collecting that money costs money for Caltrans. So, just like gas station attendants and telephone operators, toll takers are fast becoming an endangered species.

The Bay Bridge Toll Plaza can take a toll on drivers.

"We pay with cash and it's horrible, it's horrible," said driver Laney Footman. "It's taken us over an hour to get to the city."

When asked what needs to be done about the problem, she answered, "I don't know, but something because it makes it so that I don't want to go to San Francisco."

Even drivers who aren't paying cash can get stuck behind drivers who are.

"Those are the people who are slowing us down," one driver said. "I think everyone needs a toll tag. Is that even an option?"

Well, sort of.

"The Golden Gate Bridge, as you know, transferred to all electronic tolling in March of 2013," said one official during a meeting on Thursday.

Now officials want to do that with the Bay Area's other bridges. The Golden Gate Bridge uses a combination of FasTrak and license plate readers to send a bill in the mail to people who don't have an account.

The Bay Area Toll Authority unanimously agreed to spend money on a one-year study.

During the Thursday meeting, one official said they will be spending, "Four hundred and fifty-thousand dollars to analyze the operational status of the seven state owned bridges."

It's nothing compared to the millions they'd save.

"The future of toll collection is all electronic," said MTC spokesperson John Goodwin. "But the question is -- how do you build that bridge to the future?"

First, the growing pains.

When the Golden Gate Bridge switched over, FasTrak's customer service took a nosedive. They had some challenges dealing with the billing system.

A 7 On Your Side investigation showed some drivers being fined for toll evasion before the bill ever showed up. There's even a class action suit in the works. But if you call to complain?

"It takes a long time to get through to a human being to solve the problem, it's capacity problems on the website," Goodwin said.

And then there are the toll takers. It's a job that's slowly fading into history.

"Obviously, you don't want to see anybody lose jobs through electronics," said driver Steve Wharton.

Neither Caltrans nor the union wanted to comment on what becomes of those workers.

The Golden Gate Bridge did find other jobs for most of theirs. Of course, nothing will change until the study's finished next February.