Golden Gate Becomes First Major Toll Bridge in U.S. to Replace Human Toll Collectors with Machines

Thursday, March 28, 2013
Golden Gate Bridge toll collector Bill McKeon in April 1976 (photo: San Francisco Chronicle)


Automation continues to swallow up jobs once performed by people, with officials in charge of San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate Bridge this week laying off all toll collectors and replacing them with machines.

The switch, which cost 28 individuals their employment, made the Golden Gate Bridge the first major toll bridge in the nation to fully automate its toll collecting. And it is the first time, since the toll structure was built 76 years ago, that toll collectors will be absent from the booths.

 “The biggest obstacle” to this change, said Golden Gate manager Denis Mulligan, “will be getting people not to stop and try to hand dollars to the [empty] tollbooth."

Officials say the use of the tag-based FasTrak electronic toll system will save money, with estimates varying from $8 million to more than $19 million over the next eight years. Drivers, including visitors, will have the option of having their license plates photographed and then pay online or by mail.

Drivers have had the choice of using FasTrak since 2000 instead of going through the human-operated toll booths, but about 30% of motorists on the bridge have continued to pay the old-fashioned way. A bridge district spokesperson theorized that that is due to people’s preference for human contact.

“I think what it is, sometimes we are the first, if not the only smile they get in the morning,” toll collector Jackie Dean told The New York Times. “And that’s for a lot of people.”

–Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

A Last Smile and a Wave for Bay Area Commuters (by Norimitsu Ohishi, New York Times)

Golden Gate Phasing Out Toll Takers—Who's Next? (by Michael Cabanatuan, San Francisco Chronicle)

No Surprise: Diesel Exhaust Causes Cancer (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov) 

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