(San Francisco -- KALW) Last week, the Golden Gate Bridge began testing a new all-electronic toll collection system. In the past, there’s always been the option to hand cash to a human being.
But in sixty days, if all goes according to plan, human toll collectors will be completely phased out. Mary Currie, the spokesperson for Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, said it’s mostly about the budget.
“We have a $66 million, five-year shortfall, and with the movement from manual collection to electronic collection we can save approximately $16 million over an eight-year period,” Currie said.
Currie expects the change will be fairly easy, because more than two-thirds of the people who cross the Golden Gate Bridge today already have a FasTrak--an opt-in program that lets drivers pay their tolls electronically. But Currie says drivers can also pay using credit cards or cash, use smart phones or kiosks to pre-pay.
People who blow through the toll plaza without pre-paying will get a bill for six dollars mailed to their house.
The all-electronic toll system is scheduled to go into effect at the end of March.
But if this Q&A in the San Jose Mercury is any indication of how Bay Area residents feel about the switch, the Golden Gate Bridge transit district has their P.R. work cut out for them. People are asking about everything from what to do when driving a rental cars to how to this will work for those who only take rare trips across the bridge. While the transit district has answers for most of the questions, drivers will need to know them before the big shift.
Of the 28 toll Golden Gate Bridge toll workers, 14 have either retired or have found other jobs within the transit district. In the event the district can’t place the remaining workers, they will get a severance package, the details of which are still being negotiated with the toll takers’ union. The union has not made any toll workers available for comment.
Though many highways use all electronic tolling, by Currie's count, the Golden Gate is the largest bridge to attempt such a system in the United States. Two smaller bridges that have eschewed cash tolls are the SR 520 "floating bridge" in Seattle and the Leeville Bridge in Louisiana. Currie said that while Golden Gate Bridge is among the first bridges to try this new tolling system, it certainly won’t be the last.
“We will see all-electronic tolling across the United States in the next 10 years,” she said.