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Golden Gate Bridge Says Goodbye to Toll-Takers — and to a Personal Touch for Travelers

| March 12, 2013
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By Danielle Venton

Dawnette Reed started working at the Golden Gate Bridge gift shop one summer when she was 17. Now, at 43, she’s a toll collector, and loves it. She’s even got her favorite lanes, Number 1 and 2.

Courtesy Dawnette Reed

Courtesy Dawnette Reed

But by the morning commute on Wednesday, March 27, Reed and the other eight full-time toll-takers and 29 part-time workers will be out of a job when the bridge goes to all-electronic tolling. The Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District estimates the change will save $16 million during the first eight years. And, they expect traffic to move much faster.

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But for Reed, the change is like losing a loved one.

“We’ve grown to become a family at the bridge. And we loved coming to work. We won’t actually believe it until we see it, ” Reed says. “There’s so many reasons customers still need us there for.”

Drivers ask toll collectors for help during health emergencies, like heart attacks or diabetic shock. Toll plaza personnel routinely report accidents and drunk drivers, and they give directions to the many out-of-towners who get lost.

Golden Gate spokeswoman Mary Currie says while it might be true that the toll-takers, the bridge district will run patrols to help motorists. And, she says, in an emergency, drivers can always call 911.

“It’s not going to be a duty that is theirs and that is going to be missing,” Currie says. “We do that on a regular basis.”

We’ve grown to become a family at the bridge. And we loved coming to work.

Most toll collectors already have other jobs lined up within the bridge district, and a handful have retired. But quitting work isn’t an option for Reed, and she’s not interested in taking another district job.

“I have the years, but I don’t have the age, so I can’t retire yet,” Reed says. “The bridge has offered us positions, mostly they’re pushing us to be bus drivers for Golden Gate Bridge. That’s not what I want to do. A lot of people say, just go do it, just go do it. Well, every job is not for everyone.”

Not everyone is sad to see the toll drivers go though. Brian Kelly, from Napa, says it’s just progress.

“I don’t think that’s a reason to stay away from technology, and I think it saves assets,” Kelly said.

Since electronic tolling with FasTrak was added to the Golden Gate Bridge in July 2000, wait times during the morning commute dropped from as long as 20 minutes to under a minute, according to the district.

Starting on March 27, motorists will have three ways to pay for the bridge: FasTrack, a license plate account, or through a one-time payment system. Drivers can open a License Plate Account that charges a registered credit card every time the car crosses the bridge. Otherwise motorists can make a one-time payment up to 30 days before or up to 48 hours after crossing the bridge online, by phone or eventually at “cash payment locations.”

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Category: California History, Marin, Tech, Tourism, Transportation

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  • Secret Santa

    The sad part is now I can’t give the toll takers extra $$$ at christmas time and let them just smile and wish the vehicles behind my sled a happy holidays. One less way to pay it forward and make someones holidays aliittle more special.

    • http://twitter.com/yumtacos yumtacos

      I have a friend who has been paying for the car behind him for 15 years now at the GGB. He’s really depressed about this.

    • Jenn H.

      You can pay for someone’s gas, or someone’s coffee, or someone’s groceries. Bridge toll is not the end all be all of random kindness.

  • http://injaynesworld.blogspot.com/ Jayne

    “Otherwise motorists can make a one-time payment up to 30 days before or up to 48 hours after crossing the bridge online, by phone or eventually at “cash payment locations.” Dumbest damn thing I’ve heard in a long time. What about all the tourists who have no idea how the system works? They just want to cross the bridge. Sad to see the toll takers go. Pretty soon humans won’t be needed in any jobs.

  • lherman

    If drivers are getting to know toll takers so well, it means drivers are not using Fastrak. the big question is: how will they get $$ from rental cars, out of towners, etc.

  • Eric Phelan

    Was recently in Chicago and had no idea what to do when I got to the unmanned tolls in my rental car. Slowed down to read the signs and write down the website I had to visit to pay later. Then had to remember to actually do it. It was incredibly frustrating and certainly didn’t make me move through the tolls any faster. Paying 30 days in advance? Really? Seriously ridiculous!

    • http://twitter.com/sfmikee jj

      I had the EXACT same problem on the toll road south of Chicago. I was on a highway I didn’t know in a rental car with no freaking clue how to take care of the toll violation I just incurred on the rental car because I missed the toll turnoff.

    • Damon Sacco

      This is a total ripoff to tourist on the GGB! We will lose collections and people will be ticked off about fines incured. As you said, SERIOUSLY RIDICULOUS!! Just another in a long list of stupid decision by the bridge board.

    • Jenn H.

      It says you have up to 30 days in advance to pay. So you could technically pay the day before or day of.

      • dave

        Shut up Jenn

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shane-Brown/1700319931 Shane Brown

    So all you have to do is have paper plates on your car or a temp dmv tag and you get free bridge tolls now. Cause if you can pay upto 2 days later noone can say you didn’t pay at the time you are crossing. The bridge will notice a loss in revenue because of this move. And it is their own greed.shortsightedness and mismanegement of their fund that will be the reason.

    • Ross

      Seems impossible to lose revenue on this. It would require something around 40 car/hr not paying toll to see a reduction in revenues.

      • http://twitter.com/yumtacos yumtacos

        Except they are paying massive fees to banks for credit card processing and the electronic infrastructure, all of which will cost more than the staff people in those booths ever did.

    • GGBridge Public Affairs

      Hi, Shane: Motorists in vehicles without a license plate are responsible for paying their tolls. They can pay for up to 10 toll crossing at a time, up to 30 days BEFORE or with 48 hours AFTER crossing, using the One-Time Payment option. Additionally, AB 1215 went into effect on July 1, 2012 to expedite the vehicle registration process for cars sold by new motor vehicle dealers in the state of California. In California, with the exception of new cars, vehicles without properly mounted license plates are in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 5200.

      If you’re interested, learn more about vehicles with no plates and our electronic tolling system on our website: http://goldengate.org/tolls/paytollforvehicelwithnolicenseplate.php.

      • http://www.facebook.com/vivian.lino Vivian Lino

        GGBridge Public Affairs: How about one time crossers, out towners or people who are lost? I guess no spur of the moment traveling time through any of the California Bridges, not a very tourist friendly option.

      • Mason Wolf

        Steve Jobs, may he rest in peace, would have LOVED your response. His famously license-plate bereft car would’ve merrily buzzed through the toll lanes without paying, just because he could. He exploited a loophole that let him lease a car for 6 months without ever getting a plate, then trade it in for a new one just before the law required him to get one.

        But Steve Jobs aside, how exactly does the one-time payment option work anyway? No plate makes it kinda hard to enforce doesn’t it? You can’t even arrest the person when he crosses, since he can always just lie and say he’s planning to pay within the 48 hours after, and good luck to prove it if he doesn’t. Personally, this change means that I never want to cross the golden gate bridge in my car again (and since I only ever cross it now recreationally, I have the luxury of avoiding it), but the thought of a surge in toll violators warms my rebellious little heart. Your cash-less only system repels me.

        • GGBridge Public Affairs

          Hi, @google-1637a8fea99b216de5d7114ca41c462b:disqus: Drivers can use their VIN number to make a One-Time Payment BEFORE crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Find out more on how to make a One-Time Payment with no plates here: http://goldengate.org/tolls/paytollforvehicelwithnolicenseplate.php.

          • Wino Willie

            PUKE!!!

      • Name Caller

        LIARS…IDIOTS

  • Truthbot

    What an annoying spokeswoman. Was it really her job to rebut the human touch toll collectors add?

    • http://twitter.com/yumtacos yumtacos

      Yes – that’s her job. It’s also her job to completely and utterly dismiss the fact that 10% of drivers don’t have internet access or credit cards.

      Another policy made by people who don’t actually work on the ground, and a PR flack who has probably never set foot in a tollbooth – and certainly hasn’t worked in one.

  • Bobby

    This just shows an utter lack of intellectual thinking. For a city that thrives on tourist we sure don’t make it very welcoming or personal for them.

  • Let’s Do It

    Shane B

    Why, your not suggesting that starting March 27th all motorists take out their fast trak toll tags and leave them at home then tape a paper sign of “Temp Tag” over their license plate for their commute over the bridge are you??? Hmmm

  • http://blog.rrchapman.us/ Bob Chapman

    Has Washington State DOT and those who run FasTrack got their collective acts together yet? I have a Washington State Good to Go Pass on each of my vehicles (electronic toll collection).

    Last summer, when I rode my motorcycle from Everett, Washington, to San Jose (I-5, US 199, US 101), I intentionally chose a route to avoid tolls on Bay area bridges because of the hassle of paying tolls. I would have considered paying the toll on the Golden Gate Bridge going south if my Good to Go pass on my motorcycle could have been used.

    If they work together, Bay area residents could use their FasTrack pass on the SR 167 HOT lanes, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. There will be additional tolls in some Washington roads soon.

    We can work together so visitors have the same convenience.

  • Mason Wolf

    I can’t believe how stupid this is. Not everyone has internet, and not everyone has a credit card. The unbanked and those without internet are being relegated to a second-class existence – they can’t pay online or by phone, and I really have no idea whether they can get and maintain a Fastrak account. We can’t leave people behind like this.

    And the stupidity of making tourists plan ahead of time to cross a bridge when half the time they don’t even have a set itinerary (the beauty of being a tourist, in my mind) just irritates me.

    And as for me, I only ever cross the Golden Gate once in a while, but I’m going to avoid it like plague from now on. I don’t WANT a Fastrak account for something I only do, at most, once every couple of months.

  • Distoviolin

    well this is just going to confuse thousands of tourisstor out of town business visitors who will stop at the booth for ages trying to figure out how on earth you pay.

    Bizarre. File under just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  • dcordell

    Reject CASH for credit? Create MORE unemployment? Run all the money thru BANK credit cards?

    This system is not free. Sounds like another transfer of wealth from working people to the banisters.

    • dcordell

      Make that “banksters”. (Bloody spellcheck !)

    • GGBridge Public Affairs

      Hi, @dcordell:disqus: You can still pay with cash on our new tolling system. Learn how you can still pay with cash on our website: http://goldengate.org/tolls/iwantopaywithcash.php.

      • http://twitter.com/Extensor Extensor Jones

        After reading that link it seems you can no longer pay with cash at the point of crossing.

        • GGBridge Public Affairs

          Hi, @twitter-33662236:disqus: Yes, you’re correct. Cash will no longer be accepted at the Toll Plaza, but it will be accepted at one of these Cash Payment Locations: http://goldengate.org/tolls/cashpaymentlocations.php.

          • Spare Me Your LIES

            You people are STUPID. You should be fired. How much do you cost US the TAXPAYER

      • Hiram Walker

        JUMP!!!

  • http://twitter.com/abehjat Adib Behjat

    This is what I call great PR! Glad to hear response from the source to clarify this!

  • Sarah Shannon

    FasTrack is so simple & if you live in or near the city register your licence plate. I’m excited for the change, every poll booth collector I have interacted with acted annoyed they had to take my money and I commuted daily for 6 months. After school I took the only job I could find that had nothing to do with the degree I am still paying off. It would be nice if I was offered a new job every time a company I worked for was acquired. Thank goodness – the city is finally finding an area to save money.

    • Sarah Shannon

      The only downside I can think of is that it is a bit ‘big brother’ ish and I wonder what the new technology will cost.

      • http://www.facebook.com/idrissa.kuhne Idrissa Kühne

        GGB isn´t the City, dear…

  • i hate your idea

    I just want to pay when I go over, whether it is a person or machine. I dont want to remember LATER that I have to take the extra step to go online and pay later. You should pay ME to do this! BOOOOOOOO.

  • http://twitter.com/yumtacos yumtacos

    I’m confused. How will tourists in rental cars, without US cell phones, pay? That’s almost 2% of all bridge crossers right now. Many don’t have internet access; many others (Chinese tourists, the fastest growing segment of tourists in California, for instance) often use bank checks or drafts to get cash, and don’t bring credit or ATM cards with them. How will those people pay their tolls.

    This is ridiculous and very short-sighted, and leaves approximately 250,000 drivers a year without a way to pay.

  • http://twitter.com/yumtacos yumtacos

    I’m sorry, but that’s just ludicrous. What about tourists in rental cars with, for example, Chinese Mastercards, who don’t want to pay the $10 online international transaction fee? More than 80% of tourists from China don’t use credit cards for transactions because of the high fees; they get cash advances at banks. How are they supposed to pay? And most don’t read English, so I hope your signs are in several languages. Besides, many of them aren’t going to pay the $300 roaming charges that US carriers will charge them to provide internet access via their phones, anyway.

    This is an awfully poorly thought out policy. Toll invoices will be useless for 99% of folks in rental cars.

    I think you’re just trying to make sure people don’t use this bridge as much, which is fine, but please be more honest about your intentions.

  • Jeff

    And since the bridge was paid off in 1971 why is there a Toll still? Oh, yes to pay for toll takers.

    • GGBridge Public Affairs

      Hi, Jeff: The tolls actually subsidize the maintenance of the Golden Gate Bridge as well as contribute to maintaining our bus and ferry system. On November 10, 1969, the California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 584 authorizing the District to develop a transportation facility plan for implementing a mass transportation program in the Golden Gate Corridor to help alleviate traffic on the Bridge itself.

      • Bob Up and Kiss My Bus Line

        Nice parrot…squack!

  • http://twitter.com/scojj Scott Jack

    So, what I hear you saying is that 55% (that is, over half) of SF tourists do not look up where they’re going online before visiting. Also, that people driving rental cars, which includes many tourists, do not have an easy way to pay after the fact.

    • GGBridge Public Affairs

      Hi, Scott Jack: We’ve kicked off an outreach campaign to educate tourists and SF residents of our conversion to all electronic tolling. We’re currently working with tourism bureaus, hotels, rental car agencies and more to pass information along to their employees and customers.

      Most rental car agencies have their own tolling program, but there are ways for drivers to opt-out. If you’re interested, please check out our rental car chart that outlines different tolling programs: http://goldengate.org/tolls/rentaltollprograms.php. We also have a resource page on our new all electronic tolling system and what it means for rental vehicles: http://goldengate.org/tolls/rentalvehicles.php

      • Jenn H.

        Hi,
        Can’t the rental car companies just charge the bridge toll to the driver’s credit card on file? Seems like an easy solution for tourists…

      • Angry Bird

        Ooooh an outreach program….JUMP NOW…You people have made a Terrible and UNWANTED dicision

      • FERB

        Multi Million dollar outreach program $$$ JOKE!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.gardner.7771 Steven Gardner

    The system is already flawed. I just got an invoice in the mail from Fastrack. They want me to send them $6 claiming they no longer collect cash at the tolls. The notice is for Feb 16, 2013. I stopped and paid CASH but now I’m getting an invoice. Of course I don’t have the receipt as I was going with my wife to enjoy a night of comedy (can’t write it off). Now I’m getting screwed by having to pay double toll ($12)….. I’m steaming mad right now! Doesn’t show anywhere on the invoice where I can dispute it. Hopefully they have video (they should) that shows that I stopped and paid the toll. It shows the date 2/16/13, time 20:24 and lane 3 on the Golden Gate Bridge.

  • Jenn H.

    Why is it everyone’s first instinct to demonize technology… there’s a difference between “replacing humans” and increasing efficiency. Do I want a robot ringing me up at Walgreen’s? No. Do I think it might be nice for people to have a faster, more convenient morning commute through an automated payment service? YES. And let’s be honest: the toll booth operators weren’t super “interactive” to begin with.

    Our city is trying to solve budget and commute problems in small ways… and our gut reaction is that it’s “greed” and “machines replacing human beings”?

    If you need human interaction that badly, stop at Starbucks on your way to work and tell the baristas how happy you are that they’re not robots.

  • http://www.facebook.com/debbie.jackson.712 Debbie Jackson

    We travel many times throughout the year to Nor Cal, I’ve yet to meet a happy face at SF’s toll booths. I’m a California native, it rather pisses me off to give my money to constant sour faces. Good riddance & as much as I hate dealing with technology, let those people be sour elsewhere.

  • plots in satara

    This is really good news for the people.nice decesion taken by respectiva authority.

  • sheryl

    The Golden Gate bridge represents San Francisco. It is a treasure, a work of art. Ask any of the millions of tourists who visit it and take their pictures with it. De-humanizing such a treasure is wrong. The GGB toll takers are so much more than just toll takers. If you think of this bridge as just a way to get to work in the morning, then I would say you are missing the point. If the GGB board of directors does not know this then perhaps they are not the right caretakers for this bridge.

  • Wadzila

    This is brilliant! So all I have to do is get some of those plastic dealer plates, slap em on before the putt over and then take em off when I drop in the city or vice versa. How ya gonna charge me then? It wasn’t me! Can your camera catch my vehicles vin #? Haha, what a stupid idea. Catch me if you can.

  • dailey driver

    You are F’n KIDDING…terrible Idea…

  • Erked

    Golden Gate spokeswoman Mary Currie…blah blah blah..let’e eliminate HER job. that will be money saved and for a good reason

  • dailey driver

    Golden Gate spokeswoman Mary Currie…Quack..quack…quack

  • Bridge Runner

    You people should be ashamed and FIRED for this.