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Bridge officials hoping to get commuters to buy FasTrak before toll-takers go away

With Golden Gate Bridge officials ready to begin the process of moving toward all-electronic tolls next month, a push by the district to get more people to use FasTrak is under way.

The bridge district's Board of Directors has already voted to eliminate the 32 toll-takers on the span. The move, among other steps, will help bail the district out of a $66 million budget shortfall over the next five years.

Once the toll-takers are off the span -- likely in February -- only electronic payments will be accepted. In anticipation, the bridge district is encouraging those who do not have FasTrak transponders to sign up for them. A pre-paid account, typically set up with a credit card, is required. Tolls are deducted with each crossing and replenished. A statement is sent to motorists monthly documenting each crossing.

Presently seven out of 10 people who cross the span have FasTrak; the highest percentage are morning and afternoon commuters. Of those who travel between 6 and 10 a.m., 86 percent use FasTrak. During the afternoon commute between 4 and 6 p.m., 74 percent use electronic tolls.

The more people who have FasTrak, the easier the transition to life without toll-takers, who have been part of the fabric of the bridge since it opened in 1937. The district will save roughly $19 million over eight years in salaries and benefits when toll-takers are gone. A toll-taker's base annual salary starts at $48,672 and tops out at $54,080. It will cost $3.2 million, however, to get the all-electronic system up and running.

With no one to accept cash, the 20 million drivers who pass through the toll plaza annually will have to pay with FasTrak or utilize a new system dubbed "pay-by-plate." That system -- like FasTrak -- deducts payments from a driver's pre-paid account after the vehicle passes through the toll plaza. Bridge officials hope to test that system beginning next month.

The bridge district will also offer a one-time payment option that can be made up to 30 days before passing through the toll plaza. There also will be retail outlets where bridge users can pay their toll in cash by providing their license plate numbers. Payments also will be accepted over the phone and online.

Those who do not do anything will be mailed a bill for the toll with a payment due in 21 days. After that time has elapsed they will be treated as toll violators and will be required to pay the toll and a $25 penalty. There will be no mechanism to accept cash payments at the bridge.

Only FasTrak users will pay a reduced $5 toll, all others will pay $6, which is what cash users pay now.

Bridge officials expect some initial problems with the new system, in particular with people who visit the area and are unfamiliar with the tolling structure. Each year about 500,000 crossings of the bridge are made by out-of-state drivers. Bridge officials considered keeping one of the 11 toll booths open for cash transactions, but decided against it, saying such a lane could back up and slow traffic on the span.


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