During the next six weeks, Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District officials are hoping to send a single message to the nearly 6 million drivers annually who pay their bridge toll with cash: your money's no good here.
That is, the district is shifting to all-electronic tolling at the end of March and is ramping up its outreach to motorists who cross through the southbound toll plaza each year and pay the $6 toll in cash, making up 30 percent of the 20 million total tolls paid each year, according to Mary Currie, spokesperson for the district.
“What we really want is for our local cash-paying customers to know that a big change is coming in about six weeks,” Currie said. “We are a cashless organization.”
Cash-paying drivers have four options from which to choose, each of which is spelled out on the district's toll website:
- FasTrak: While 86 percent of morning Golden Gate Bridge commuters use the popular payment system, the district is encouraging all drivers to do the same, particularly because FasTrak users save $1 on each toll.
- License Plate Account: For those who prefer not to have a FastTrak, either because of the required pre-payment, the GPS-enabled sensor it requires or any other reasons, a credit card-based account can be set up using a car's license plate, which will be scanned each time it passes through the toll plaza. Currie said 158 license plate accounts had been created as of two weeks ago. Accounts be opened, funded and maintained with a credit card, cash, check or money order. When the account is opened with a credit card, a "pay-as-you go" toll is charged to the credit card only when you cross the bridge.
- One-time payment: Drivers who don't want to have an account for tolls, as well as those who use rental cars, can pay in advance for their bridge use. Payments can be made by phone using a credit card or in person with cash at cash payment locations or in person using cash, check, money order or credit card at the Bay Area FasTrak Service Center in San Francisco.
- Invoice: If none of the above options are used, the registered owner of the vehicle will receive a bill in the mail for the unpaid toll.
In addition, the district will have 150 FasTrak-powered customer service centers scattered throughout the Bay Area, mostly at gas stations, where drivers can pay their invoices and make one-time payments toward future tolls, Currie said.
Currie acknowledged that while district officials hope to get the vast majority of the cash-paying customers to transition to electronic payments by the end of March, there are some groups that might be tougher to lure.
Rental car drivers, particularly those from out of town or the country, aren't likely to set up either FasTrak or license plate accounts, Currie said. Those drivers will have two options: they can make one-time payments in advance of their bridge crossings, or they can sign up through the rental car company for a third party service, such as PlatePass, which charges a $2.95 per day fee to use its own payment system.
Another group that might be tough for the district to garner tolls from are drivers of just-purchased cars that don't have FasTrak transponders or license plates yet.
“They won’t get fined unless they get pulled over,” Currie said. “It’s you telling the system the truth – it’s not a perfect system in that case.”
The all-electronic system will save the district $16.8 million over eight years, district officials said, and Currie said cost savings, particularly on salaries and benefits, are the biggest driver of the switch. The move will lead to 14 toll workers losing their jobs at the end of March, she said. Of the 28 full-time toll collectors employed by the district when the electronic switch was decided upon, 14 have either retired or tranferred to jobs elsewhere in the district.
“There was a day when toll collection was a very prestigious job,” Currie said. “They were the face of our organization – so we are losing that.”
The iconic span will be the first toll bridge in the state to switch from manual to electronic toll collections, Currie said.