Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Golden Gate Bridge to go fully electronic free flow in 2012

According to SF Gate, in a significant move to reduce congestion, the Golden Gate District Board of Directors voted in January to eliminate toll booths and manual toll collection on the Golden Gate Bridge by September 2012. 

The move is expected to save US$19.2 million over 10 years, as manual toll collection has become increasingly more expensive than electronic collection through the local "Fastrak" DSRC systemTwo-thirds of users already use the Fastrak system.  There is also already a discount for Fastrak of U$1 for cars

It was delayed by concerns about the employment of the 34 people employed as toll collectors and how cash payers would be accommodated.  Indeed, the article above has multiple quotes from people who actually LIKED the human contact with toll collectors, and trade unions who shudder at the idea that an entire category of employment can disappear in the name of - "efficiency".   Presumably, stagecoach drivers, telex operators and cockpit engineers should never have gone, and machinery should all be assembled by hand in a North Korean style approach to employment.

A more critical issue is to cover those who are cash dependent, with the article claiming around 15% of Bay Area residents are.  They will need to have options to go into stores and pay for access passes in advance (having post payment bills effectively means issuing credit that has a high risk of being unpaid).   Prepaid options are a low cost solution to addressing

Presumably the main step forward in the next year should be an active campaign to encourage as many users as possible to have Fastrak tags, but also to communicate how the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system will work for payment and enforcement.  US experience in electronic free flow tolling is not extensive, with the long standing experience coming from Canada (Toronto 407), Australia (tolling in Melbourne and Sydney), Singapore (Electronic road pricing) and London (congestion charge).  San Francisco would do well to spend time developing the business rules and processes necessary to covered those without tags, those without bank accounts and free flow enforcement.   It is worth noting that highway engineers are typically not expert in developing systems or business rules for handling customers.  

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