Golden Gate bridge plan all-electronic tolling as major budget balancer

April 16, 2010

The Golden Gate Bridge (GGB) authority is planning all-electronic tolling (AET) as a major budget balancing measure as well as a way of reducing exhaust emissions and motorist delay. A longterm financial plan shows AET as contributing a $16.3m in savings through FY2019/2020, by far the largest item in a list of "Increased efficiencies through technology." (Attachment p1 to FY2009/2010 Financial Plan for Achieving Longterm Financial Stability)

The bridge presently employs 35 toll collectors who staff seven toll lanes in the toll plaza located on the San Francisco side of the bridge (tolling is toward San Francisco, southbound, only). The bridge authority doesn't break out toll collection costs in its annual financial statement but by our estimate it is in the region of $15m to $16m of the reported $44m for total operating costs of the bridge. (Toll collectors are 35 of the total operating staff of 101.) On that basis they cost around $440k/year each.

Costly cash collection

Cash toll transactions at 44% of the total (56% being transponder tolls) number 8.4m/year so at $15.5m total collection cost, the average $6 cash toll costs around $1.80 to collect manually.

NOTE: those are our back-o'-the-envelop estimates only, fully allocating various operations costs on an average per employee basis.

FasTrak-brand transponder tolls at $5 gross a dollar less than the cash toll but with a collection cost of probably 30c/transaction versus that $1.80 they yield say $4.70 v around $4.20 for the cash toll.

The Golden Gate Bridge runs 70% transponder tolls during the morning peak period when commuters dominate the traffic, and 56% off-peak overall.

Video or license plate based tolling that is destined to replace cash toll collection will be more expensive than transponder toll collection, but if experience elsewhere is a guide it should be below the cost of cash but above the cost of transponder toll collection.

GGB response: Mary Currie spokesman for the GGB says they estimate the average cost of collecting a cash toll at 56c, not our $1.80. On that basis total cash toll collection costs must be $4.7m (8.4m x $0.56). The operating costs attended to by the other 66 operations staff must amount to $39.3m ($44m - $4.7m) or $595k/staffer v compared to $134k/toll collector/year.

We've asked for a breakdown of those $39.3m non-cash toll collection costs, the $595k/staffer/year, not broken down in the annual financial reports.

Mary Currie for the Bridge responds that we're putting the cart before the horse - that the AET study will study and report on all this.

(We remember from a Cost Accounting unit we did years ago for a Business degree that there are many different ways of looking at costs, depending on how overhead costs are allocated - editor.)

November deadline for plan

All this and more is due to be investigated in an "Strategic Development Plan for All Electronic Tolling" just approved by the bridge authority's board of directors. Traffic Technologies Inc with Stan Weiss and Michael Kolb based in New Windsor north of New York City have been hired to produce the plan by the GG Bridge at a cost of $292k.

The Weiss-Kolb plan is due to be completed by November this year.

A statement by the GGB authority says the AET Strategic Plan "will serve as the road map for such a conversion on the Golden Gate Bridge, establishing a solid foundation for realizing the operational changes that will be required. "

"AET becoming standard practice"

They note that planning for and operating in an all-electronic environment "is becoming standard practice in the toll collection industry."

They cite North American toll facilities currently operating with AET as E470 Denver CO, facilities operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority in the Dallas area and the 407 Express Toll Road near Toronto.

They note planning by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for AET.

About eight express toll lanes projects are also AET, and the Miami FL area has a complete AET conversion under way now. The new Inter County Connector tollroad under construction in Maryland in the northern suburbs of the Washington DC area is due to open its first segment with AET within a  year.

Benefits listed

The GG Bridge statement says that in addition to improved operational efficiency benefits of AET should include:
- Safety, reduction or elimination in abrupt vehicle speed and lane changes;

- Environment,  emissions reductions through the elimination of unnecessary vehicle decelerations and accelerations at the toll plaza;

- Travel Time, customers can proceed to their destination with fewer obstacles;

- Service, non-FasTrak customers are not required to have cash on hand; and,

- Efficiency, operation of a single toll collection system as opposed to cash and electronic systems

3 phases in the study

TTI will do the work in three phases including:

1. a report on existing conditions with emphasis on the transitional issues

2. descriptions of alternative AET approaches and the costs and benefits of each

3. the Strategic Plan based on discussion of the alternatives from Phase 2 with major stakeholders and bridge staff

In a report to the board of directors staff wrote that TTI should be hired by negotiated contract, rather than competitive bids, because the small firm starts with more detailed knowledge of tolling in the Bay Area and at the Bridge than others:

"While other firms exist that may have expertise in all electronic tolling, none possess both the breadth of TTI's knowledge, and the depth specifically of the District's system.

"Any other firm would need to spend unnecessary time and expense learning about the District's tolling systems, as well as its operating methodologies. TTI has always provided the District with excellent services, and charged very competitive rates."

BACKGROUND: The Golden Gate Bridge is an American icon, probably the best known and most admired piece of civil engineering in the country. Its red color, graceful lines and spectacular natural setting make it a very special beauty.

The Golden Gate is the mouth of San Francisco Bay, described as golden for the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. The bridge which opened in May 1937 replaced ferry service between the city of San Francisco and Marin County on the peninsula to the north.

With a main span of 1280m (4200ft) it was the longest suspension span in the world when it opened. It is still the second longest in the US. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge operated by MTA Bridges and Tunnels in New York City is longer.

The bridge towers are 230m (750ft) high and the main span provides a generous 67m (220ft) clearance for ocean going ships.

The deck of the bridge has six tight traffic lanes and no median. It carries the route designations US101 and California SR1.

Traffic on the GG Bridge has been in decline the past ten years. Southbound tolled traffic went from an average 58.2k/day in 2000 to about 54k/day between 2003. It stayed around that level through 2008, a drop of about 7% on the high at the turn of the millennium.

In 2009 traffic dropped another 3% to 52.2k/day.

Unemployment in the Bay area doubled in 2009 to nearly 10%. Transit ridership is also down.

Hopefully traffic will recover to around 54k/day when the economy recovers.

Bridge toll revenue is around $97m/year and profits on the bridge to the tune of around $48m/year are used to subsidize loss-making ferry and bus transit services also operated by the bridge authority.


on the strategic plan for AET:






TOLLROADSnews 2010-04-15 REVISIONS/ADDITIONS 2010-04-16 13:30

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