After unveiling 10 pilot locations for electronic toll payment earlier this month, the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District announced last week that, as of March 27, cash will no longer be accepted in the bridge’s toll lanes.

The announcement of the bridge’s “go live” date for all-electronic tolling marks the end of toll collectors on the iconic link between San Francisco and Marin County.

The decision to shift to all-electronic tolling was made in January of 2011, according to Mary Currie, public affairs director for GGBHTD, who said the change is one of 33 initiatives introduced by the district since 2009 to reduce the budget.

In the two years since the decision was made, 19 of the 28 full-time toll collectors have either transitioned to another job at the district or called it quits, according to Currie.

“Some of the collectors are now working as bus drivers, bus dispatchers, bridge laborers and maintenance workers,” Currie said. “Others have retired along the way, which has forced us to backfill with temporary workers.”

The pay for district employees, however, varies from job to job.

Salaries for employees of the GGBHTD are based on multi-step pay ranges. Employees begin at step one and, over time, work their way up to a higher salary.

Step one pay for Golden Gate Bridge toll collectors is $24.77 per hour. There are three steps in the toll collectors pay range, with the top step paying $27.53.

By comparison, step one pay for district bus operators is $21.22 per hour. There are four steps in the bus drivers pay range, with the top step paying $24.96.

Thus, toll collectors being transitioned to other jobs within the district may face a pay decrease, Currie said.

There are also different pensions for certain jobs, which do not transfer.

According to Currie, toll collectors belong to Calpers, while bus operators belong to an ATU-funded pension.

“In switching jobs, the [toll collectors] have to also change pension plans and start a new pension with ATU,” Currie said, noting that toll collectors of more than five years are able to keep their Calpers pensions.

Currie said she also realizes the bridge’s legacy may suffer from this change, as toll collectors contribute to both the experience authenticity of the bridge.

In 1968, the Golden Gate Bridge became the first major bridge in the world to implement one-way toll collection. Over time, other bridges around the world followed suit and, according to the district, the Golden Gate became a trendsetter among bridges.

Now, some 45 years later, the Golden Gate Bridge is scheduled to become the first bridge in California to implement all-electronic tolling, Currie said.

The district has also opted to utilize the bridge’s legacy in its latest advertising campaign.

On March 6, the district launched a new slogan – “Drive on through to the other side. All Electronic Tolling on the Golden Gate Bridge. No Stopping, Ever. Trippy.” – to raise awareness about the conversion.

Currie said the slogan appropriately pays homage to the 1960s, a time when the bridge first began setting standards in functionality.

“The fun, silly, dated approach is eye catching,” Currie said. “People see it and talk about it. The ‘drive on through’ is really what people will be expected to do, and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.”

Changeable Message Signs, announcing the changeover date, have been set up along Southbound 101 in Marin. Other CMS have been placed in San Francisco for drivers traveling north toward the bridge.

In addition to the signage, the district plans to conduct a hearing and receive public comments about revising the speed limit through the toll plaza.

The current speed limit through the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza is posted as 5 MPH. Currie said the district will consider changing the limit to 25 MPH, which is the posted limit for “FasTrak Only” lanes on other Caltrans-operated bridges.

“The traffic isn’t stopping anymore and you don’t have toll collectors around anymore,” Currie said. “Now that there are no people, the speed can increase.”

Though the collectors will be absent from the toll plaza, the district plans on keeping the toll booths.

“[The toll booths] may be modified to accommodate other structures, but beyond that there are no plans to remove them. The district still needs a structure to house all the equipment.”

The equipment – cameras, antennae and the image capturing software that makes all-electronic tolling possible – will be kept inside the toll booths for the time being.

Currie said the district will be wrapping up the insides of the toll booth windows so people do not look inside, expecting a collector.

The district introduced all-electronic tolling options at the end of January, which includes three, new pay-by-plate options for drivers.

For more information on all-electronic tolling, visit goldengate.org.

Contact Gregory Andersen at gandersen@marinscope.com.

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