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E-toll era arrives on Golden Gate

By Mark Prodo
IJ reporter


TOLL TEST: A car-mounted transponder (white box on windshield) is being tested
as part  of an electronic toll  system on the Golden Gate Bridge.

$7 million system starts next week

Anything to make the commute better. That has been the lament of southbound morning commuters for years. Gold­en Gate Bridge officials say things will start to improve a week from today. That’s when the much-ballyhooed $7 million elec­tronic toll system known, as FasTrak will officially come online at the bridge’s toll plaza.

INTERESTED?
Drivers interested in elec­tronic tolls can provide their names and mailing addresses by e-mailing fastrak@golden­gate.org or by calling 877-GGB-TOLL. For updates on the proj­ect, visit the bridge district’s Web site at www.goldengate.org.

 

    When the system gets up and running at full speed, bridge officials pre­dict commuters will see less congestion around the toll plaza.  “I like it very much,” said Elizabeth Hart of Sausalito, one of about 2,400 people who already have electronic transponders mounted in their vehicles as part of a test group. “It relieves some of the pressure of having to find the bridge ticket, stop­ping and rolling down your window. You just go right on through.”

    Bridge officials say that so fare they are pleased with the testing.  The transponders are free for motorists who set up prepaid accounts. The de­vices, supported by two Vel­cro strips, can be mounted inside the windshield be­hind the rearview mirror.  As drivers pass by the booth, the transponder em­anates two quick beeps sig­naling the toll has been de­ducted from their account. A display sign at the tollbooth notifies motorists that the toll has been accepted. Officials recommend driving through at about 5mph.

     Some glitches that have surfaced during the testing, officials said, have been associated with drivers who mounted the transponders vertically, rather than horizontally. “That maybe our fault because in the booklet we send out, it looks like it is vertical. That’s not right,” said bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie.  The system also has had a prob­lem with “wavers,” a term bridge of­ficials have given to people who wave the transponders as they pass through the toll booth instead of mounting the device on their car.  “They have to be on the window. Waving is a no-no,” Currie said.

     The bridge handles about 6,000 cars an hour through the tollbooths during the peak morning commute. When the electronic toll system is up and running as many as 7,200 vehicles will be able to move through the toll booth, often a choke point for traffic. About 120,000 vehicles pass over the bridge every day.  “We are not widening the bridge, so traffic will still go up the Waldo Grade, but it will move things more quickly through the toll plaza,” Currie said.  When the system comes fully on­line next Thursday, there won’t be a dedicated for FasTrack users. That is expected to happen later as more people sign up.

 

     Bridge officials say if a transpon­der does not work, motorists should continue through the toll plaza and then contact the district. Officials don’t want drivers stopping or back­ing-up if they don’t hear the beeps.   “We can get their license plate on the cameras and will bill them that way. Don’t stop, just keep on going,” Currie said. “But they do need to call us.”

     The arrival of the electronic toll system means the eventual end of discount toll tickets, which motorist currently buy ahead of time and get a 33-cent break on the price of the $3 single fare. The tickets, sold in booklets, will be phased out 90 days after FasTrak starts.  While motorists using electronic tolls will continue to get the 33-cent discount, the price break may be eliminated after a year of the Fas­Trak program.

     Bridge officials have said that keeping the discount system in place could create a loss of up to $13.7 million in toll revenue over the first 10 years of the program. While 35 percent of drivers who pass through the tolls currently take advantage of the discount, the figure could jump to 65 percent by 2006 if the expected popularity of FasTrak pans out.  “It is something the board will look at. There will be public hear­ings,” Curie said. San Anselmo commuter Lin Ivory is happy to the see the system ready to launch.  “It’s about time. I think it will be great,” she said.

 

Contact reporter Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@marinij.com

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