Golden Gate Bridge tolls to go electronic, lay off workers 

Along with big trucks, traffic snarls and talk radio, toll collectors are a staple of the highway commute. But they might soon disappear from Bay Area roads, starting with the Golden Gate Bridge.

On Thursday, a subcommittee of the bridge district will vote on a proposal to lay off the 32 toll workers and embrace all-electronic payments. If approved, the system would debut by February 2012 and be fully implemented by the end of that year.

Intent on speeding up travel times and reducing costs, nearly every toll authority in the country is considering all-electronic systems, said Neil Gray of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. State highways in Colorado and Florida have already done so, and Gray said 50 percent of all toll thoroughfares could be fully automated within a decade.

One agency yet to be on board is the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which is in charge of all other Bay Area toll bridges.

“We are going to be sensitive to the employees who work at the toll plazas,” said MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler, noting that some 265 workers are employed at the agency’s seven bridges.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, which is facing a five-year $89 million budget deficit, said all-electronic tolling will save $16 million during the next decade.

Two-thirds of drivers already use FasTrak. For the remainder, cameras would photograph a license plate and a bill would be sent to the motorist’s home. The district already has reciprocal billing agreements with neighboring states, and spokeswoman Mary Currie said it plans to have them with all 50 states by 2012.

For rental cars, bridge tolls would be tacked onto the final invoice, bridge manager Kary Witt said.

FasTrak motorists would continue to pay $5, while other motorists would be billed $6.

Also, all-electronic tolling would speed up travel times, particularly on weekends, Witt said.

But those benefits come as little consolation to the toll collectors set to lose their jobs, said 15-year veteran Ben Ramirez. “This will impact our lives, and the lives of our offspring,” he said.

Witt said the district is seeking internal positions for the toll collectors. Several have already been transferred to other jobs, and with attrition, the job loss could be minimal.

Faster, less expensive

All-electronic tolling on the Golden Gate Bridge would speed up commutes and save the transit district money.

6-8 seconds Average duration of cash transactions on bridge

0-1 seconds Average duration of FasTrak transactions

20 minutes Average weekday delay at toll plaza before FasTrak was introduced in 2000

0-5 minutes Average weekday delay now

$89 million Bridge district’s projected five-year shortfall

$16 million Net savings of all-electronic tolling during 10-year period

32 Toll workers on bridge (28 full time, four part time)

$27 Average hourly wage of toll workers on bridge

Source: Golden Gate Bridge District

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Will Reisman

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