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Golden Gate Bridge Tolls Go All Electronic

The Golden Gate Bridge
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The Golden Gate Bridge
The city's distinguished landmark will no longer have people collecting tolls, a job loss feared by workers

Toll takers will be no more in San Francisco come December 2012.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District's Board of Directors voted 13-2 today to nix cash payments on the Golden Gate Bridge and replace them with an all-electronic toll-taking system.

The change, which will go into effect December 2012, is expected to speed up traffic and save the district a net $16 million over the next eight years. The district faces an $89 million deficit over the next five years.

The decision is attracting criticism because it requires the district to eliminate 28 full-time and four part-time toll-taking positions, as well as two positions in the vault, where toll money is counted.

District spokeswoman Mary Currie said the position eliminations do not equate to layoffs, and that the district "will make every attempt possible to replace workers" in alternate positions within the district. She noted that some district employees are expected to retire soon, which should make the job shifting easier.

Rafael Cabrera, president of the toll takers' union, Transportation Workers Union, Local 250-A, says he isn't convinced the jobs are safe because he hasn't seen any paperwork. He says the board members are "just talking" and is concerned about how the loss of toll takers will change the personality of the bridge.

"This is one of the wonders of the world," he said. "Basically, they are trying to take the face of the bridge by letting these people go."

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, who is a member of the board, voted against the change because he still has "a number of concerns," including how a lack of toll takers will effect safety.

"The toll workers essentially are the eyes and ears of the bridge," he said.

He also said that before committing to going all-electronic, he wanted to be sure the district can save money through the project. An electronic toll system in Louisiana that is facing problems will cost that state $10 million to replace, according to a December 29 article by Advocate Capitol News Bureau.

Currie said the district has spoken to agencies in Florida, New York, Louisiana and elsewhere and "all would make the decision again to go to electronic tolling."

She said switching to all electronic tolls should be easy to implement, because two-thirds of drivers already use the electronic payment option FasTrak.

"It's a pretty straight forward process," she said.

Those who don't use FasTrak will have their license plate numbers recorded by cameras that are already installed at the tolls, and a bill will be sent to the address of the car's registered owner. Still, one glitch remains. New cars don't always have license plates, and if those cars aren't equipped with FasTrak, there will be no way to bill the drivers.

Currie says the district is working with the legislature to require drivers to register their cars sooner.

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