09/19/2012 06:35 pm ET Updated Sep 21, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge Tolls: Iconic Span To Ditch Human Toll Takers For All-Electronic System

It’s the end of an era for the Golden Gate Bridge.

Early next year, the iconic landmark spanning the mouth of the San Francisco Bay will become the first bridge in the state of California to eliminate human toll takers and switch to an all-electronic format.

"It's where the industry is going, the technology is here, it's workable and doable," Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District spokesperson Mary Currie told the Marin Independent Journal. "We anticipate seeing improvements in flow of traffic during our peak period of congestion."

The district, which also manages a fleet of transbay ferries as well as the Golden Gate Transit bus system, is facing a $66 million budget shortfall over the next five years. Moving to all-electronic is an attempt to save funds and get back into the black.

While officials estimate it will cost over $3 million to install the system and get it in working order, the long-term savings are projected at $19 million over the next eight years (primarily in no longer having to pay the salaries and benefits of the 32 toll takers on staff).

In addition to saving money, eliminating human toll takers will help with safety. Earlier this month a drunk woman crashed her Lexus into the toll plaza before kicking a cop in the face and then, naturaly, getting arrested.

Currently, 70 percent of drivers crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on a daily basis use FasTrak, an electronic transponder placed inside each vehicle that tracks when someone crosses the bridge and charges them accordingly.

In addition to FasTrak, a "pay-by-plate" system will be created in which drivers register their license plates and create accounts that will be charged every time cameras see those plates cross the bridge. Payments under this system will also be accepted at retail stores around the Bay Area.

For people without an account with either system, cameras linked to a Department of Motor Vehicles database will mail bills to the homes of individuals who crossed the bridge but haven't paid. They will have 21 days to pay the toll or be subjected to a $25 fine.

SF Appeal notes that officials aren't too concerned with people taking advantage of the new system by not paying the bills they get in the mail. After failing to pay multiple bills, responsibility for collection then shifts to the responsibility of the DMV, which will prevent people from re-registering their cars until debts are paid.

Cars with dealer plates will be placed on the "honor system."

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that in certain special cases, the district will have to do some extra outreach:

Transit officials are also working to ensure that people who are renting or using a car-share program will pay their tolls, too. Car rental companies generally charge a built-in fee for license-plate-based toll collection, but customers can opt out and make the one-time payment on their own. The district will also meet with car-sharing services like Zipcar to come up with a plan for its users.

The hardest part will be letting tourists know about the change, Currie said. The district has been working with the local and state tourism agencies, San Francisco Travel Association and Visit California, to publicize the new system, and signs will encourage motorists to "keep moving" as they approach the toll plaza.

Human toll takers have been used since the bridge opened in 1937, when it only cost 50 cents for a car to pass and a nickel for each pedestrian or cyclist.

The electronic system is scheduled for implementation in December. There will still be human toll takers on hand, however, until next February.



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