Golden Gate Bridge to have all-electronic toll system by last quarter of 2012

January 29, 2011

Golden Gate Bridge board of directors voted today (Jan 28) to end cash toll collection at the iconic San Francisco bridge with conversion to all-electronic toll (AET) collection. The vote was 13 for AET, 2 against. Yesterday (Jan 27) the Finance Committee voted for AET by 8 to 3. The schedule presented by staff aims to go fully live with AET between September and December 2012. The bridge already has modern electronic toll equipment, cameras for enforcement, and adaptable software, so the conversion cost is modest compared to operations savings.

The conversion is also expected to improve travel times and reduce congestion caused by cash toll collection, improve safety by ending stops, lane changes and merges, and reduce fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions. However the present project will not remove the existing islands and toll booths, so although all-electronic, it will remain for the time being a lane-based - rather than an open road (ORT) - toll system. Being lane-based and with the heritage of old islands and booths remaining, travel through the toll point will probably be signed for 15mph.

Only later with demolition and construction of an open road highway section by the toll point, and with equipment moved to gantries, will the full advantages of all-electronic tolling be realized. This move to AET ahead of ORT mirrors MTAB&T's staging at the Henry Hudson Bridge. (ADDITION)

The board vote to go all-electronic authorized staff to begin implementation of AET and voted an additional $2.9m from reserves be used to meet the project cost - estimated at $3.2m. The vote also requires staff to confer with the toll collectors' union. 34 toll collector jobs and 2 cash vault jobs will be eliminated. Toll supervisors will be reassigned to other work, including stepped up security for the bridge.

Cost savings are estimated to be $19.2m over the first eight years of operations or $2.4m/year - an impressive return on the one-off $3.2m investment.


The schedule according to today's announcement is:

- 12 months to Jan 2012: finalize design, develop business rules, resolve issues with local governments and unions, develop RFPs and contract for conversion based on additions, modifications to existing electronic toll system hardware and software, begin testing

- 7 months Feb to Aug 2012 soft launch offering new license plate image tolling option, verify functionality, address issues while continuing cash toll collection alongside

- September 2012 on: striping and signage for AET implemented, cash collection ceases

A presentation slide (reproduced nearby) has 8 months design, 4 months build covering the first year's work.

Three toll payment modes

The GG Bridge plan three toll payment modes:

- the familiar prepaid FasTrak transponder account remains

- a registered license plate account with a bank card on file

- unknown license plate is billed after reference to motor vehicle registry search

A third of transactions cash now, must go to transponder or license plate read

66% of tolls at the GG Bridge are presently by FasTrak transponder account so a third of patrons will need to be shifted to one of the three highway speed toll payment modes. Thew hope is to boost transponder tolls to 74%, for 26% license plate imaging.

The GG Bridge is being assisted in planning the AET conversion by Traffic Technologies Inc, a small established group of toll system veterans who work out of New York - Michael Kolb and Stan Weiss. Adaptations to back office systems are being done by ACS/Xerox which operates the toll processing and customer service center for all the toll bridges in the Bay area - BATA bridges and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Lessons learned

A presentation by the Bridge authority and TTI says the lessons learned from tollers using AET is that preparation is the key with:

- sustained and comprehensive outreach

- hardware and software adapted to handle the big increase in camera image based transactions

- service center beefed up for increased activity

- handling some confusion in the lanes by motorists looking for cash

But no toller with AET regrets the conversion. All those contacted by the GG Bridge and TTI consider they made the right decision to go cashless.

Toll rates to be maintained

Toll rates now $5 FasTrak transponder $6 cash will be maintained with a premium toll for license plate-based tolling over transponder. Tolls are only charged southbound, or inbound to San Francisco.

Transponders and registered license plate tolls will be paid automatically by debiting the bank card attached to the accounts. Invoiced license plate tolls will be payable online with a bank card, by check in the mail, or by cash at a network of convenience stores, groceries, gas stations.

Just over half of present cash payers (33%) at the GG Bridge are infrequent users who make up 18% of tolls. It is expected that 1% of these can be converted to FasTrak transponders, 3% gotten to register their license plate and bank card, leaving 14% to be invoiced.

Frequent users paying cash constitute 10% of transactions. of these the hope is to move 2% to FasTrak transponder accounts and 7% to a license plate registered, leaving just 1% to be invoiced.

Rental cars account for 5% of cash payments now and the hope is to move four-fifths of 4% of tolls to transponder accounts, one-fifth or 1% of tolls to registered license plate, so none have to be invoiced. (see table nearby)

BACKGROUND: The Golden Gate Bridge has six travel lanes and carries around 42m vehicles/year or an average 115k/day. Toll transactions because of tolling southbound-only are half that, at an average 57k/day.

The Golden Gate Bridge opened May 23 1937 with a 50c toll each direction.

Tolls went down in 1950 to 40c, in Feb 1955 to 30c, then in Oct 1955 to 25c each direction.

In Oct 1968 tolling was made one-way, southbound only for 50c.

Nov 1969 they introduced books of tickets discounted to 26c/trip, raised a month later to 40c/trip.

Dec 1971 the discount disappeared on tickets which we then came in what were termed "convenience ticket books" rather than discount ticket books, tolls 50c.

Nov 1974 tolls went up to 75c.

Apr 1976 carpools of 3 or more people free 6am to 10am weekdays (peak commute hours)

Nov 1977 toll up to $1.00, extra axle 50c

Mar 1981 $1.25 toll

July 1981 toll dropped back to $1.00

August 1981 the toll Fridays and Saturdays was doubled to $2, but kept at $1 Sunday through Thursdays.

In Jan 1989 tolls were made the same every day at $2 cash, $20 for a book of 16 tickets, making ticket tolls $1.25.

In July 1991 cash tolls went to $3 and ticket tolls to $2.22.

By July 1995 the discounted ticket was up to $2.67.

In Nov 2000 electronic tolling with FasTrak branded transponders began, providing trips at $2.67, while the cash toll remained $3.00.

July 2001 the discount was gone and transponder as well as cash tolls were $3.00, $1.50 per extra axle.

Sept 2002 $4 FasTrak transponder, $5 cash, $2.50 for each extra axle

Sept 2008 $5 FasTrak transponder, $6 cash, $2.50 extra axles with FasTrak, $3 with cash

Drawn from this detailed history:

TOLLROADSnews 2011-01-28 ADDITIONS 2011-01-29

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