Future of Bay Area bridges may include all electronic tolling

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - State bridges across the Bay Area are likely in for a big change in the coming years, and on Wednesday, the Bay Area Toll Authority took the first step.

Cars without FasTrak line up at the Bay Bridge toll plaza to wait for each driver's turn to pay. But non-rush hour waiting is likely to be history sometime in the next few years.

"It's clear that the future of tolling, not just here in the Bay Area, but around the world, is all electronic," said John Goodwin from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The Bay Area Toll Authority Oversight Committee voted unanimously to commission a study on the idea of all electronic tolls on the seven state owned bridges.

"The toll plazas at the bridges are bottlenecks in the regional freeway network. And we want to open up those bottlenecks," added Goodwin.

The change, which the Golden Gate Bridge went through two years ago, would mean that the area's 250 toll takers would no longer be needed. But there would be major benefits. "For traffic operations, recognize the benefits, for air quality, and of course the ability for public agencies to save money," said Goodwin.

Air quality would be improved because not as many cars would be sitting in line idling. As for saving money, Golden Gate Bridge District officials say that bridge is now saving $1.4 million a year since going to all electronic tolling.

Drivers tout the benefits of electronic toll taking. "Having FasTrak is always a plus. I always ride with my friends if they have FasTrak, or use my mom's car, she has FasTrak. But, yeah it will make lines a lot easier," said Akia Graybill of Emeryville.

At the Shell Station in Emeryville, drivers expressed concern about the toll takers. "They're there all day, so it creates jobs for them. If you take that away, they're going to have to find a different job," said Miguel Gomez of Castro Valley.

Chris Toberman of San Pablo added, "At least have a lane or two for toll takers, at least at this bridge. A lot of tourists come in; it would be really difficult for them to figure out."

The system will send drivers invoices in the mail, have accounts linked to license plates, and be run with FasTrak.

The study will be done next February, and MTC officials say all electronic tolling could be here just a few years after that.