7 Bay Area bridges to go cashless, eliminating toll takers' jobs

Big changes are coming to the Bay Area's toll bridges. A vote Wednesday signaled the end of cash lanes and toll takers will be replaced by the electronic FasTrak system.

The Golden Gate Bridge made the switch six years ago. Now the other Bay Area toll bridges are preparing to eliminate cash payments.

The hope is to speed up the flow of traffic and save money on operations at the seven state run bridges in the Bay Area including the Carquinez, Antioch and Benicia bridges, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the San Mateo Bridge and Dumbarton Bridge.

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission gave the green light on a $4 million contract with a consultant for an all-electronic tolling system. Drivers must pay with FasTrak only. For those without FasTrak, cameras will capture your license plate and you'll get a bill in the mall. The commission said it will save drivers time and the agency money.

"We are going to have a model where all the bridges function kind of like the far left-hand side of the Benicia-Martinez bridge where you can zip through at highway speeds," said John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "You don't have to slow down to squeeze through a toll booth. Toll booths will be removed."

The Golden Gate Bridge already made the switch going cashless back in 2013.

"It's been great," said Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz. "Overnight we saw a reduction of our morning commute traffic. Before we used to move 500 vehicles per lane per hour now we move 1,500."

Some drivers we spoke with were in favor.

"I'm totally for it," said Annie Fruit of Berkeley. "I'm 100 percent for it. They are photographing your license plate constantly anyway."

Others wanted to steer clear.

"Everything's being automated," said Adam White of Moraga. "The way you save money is by releasing the people so it's not good stuff right? It's people's jobs."

The toll takers are Caltrans employees. Caltrans said roughly 200 will be affected.

"Over the years as the technology is phased in, we will be helping the toll takers transition within Caltrans," said Caltrans Spokesman Bart Ney.

One toll worker shrugged her shoulders when we asked her how she felt. She said she won't worry about it until it comes.

The SEIU Local 1000 issued a statement that said in part, "We're aware that this is the direction that Caltrans has been looking to move. Because our members have a union, they will have the ability to negotiate directly with their employer to mitigate the impact of any planned changes."

With future savings, does it mean toll fares will be lowered? Not quite.

"While the savings is significant, it's really just a small drop in the bucket in terms of the overall tolling enterprise," said Goodwin.

The commission anticipates realistically it could take up to five years for the system to go into effect. The Carquinez Bridge will likely be the first to go cashless. MTC said engineers say it's a good test bed to move faster on the others. The Bay Bridge will be likely be last since it's the busiest.