Imagine the Golden Gate Bridge without humans taking tolls at the iconic booths that stand sentry at the gateway to San Francisco.
Forgot your toll money? No worries. Just drive on through and either pay at a kiosk down the road or wait for an invoice to arrive in the mail.
Such changes appear imminent as the Golden Gate becomes the first bridge in California and one of the few in the world to convert to all-electronic tolls.
Bridge officials express hope that with enough publicity, the conversion, which could take effect in March, won't cause major problems, such as motorists stopping on the span in a vain search for someone to give their toll money to.
"I don't think anyone will promise it will be glitch-free. It won't," said Brian Sobel, a Petaluma political consultant and one of three Sonoma County members on the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. "But we want to keep errors to a bare minimum, and I think we're in a position to do that."
The majority of people who cross the Golden Gate pay their tolls using the FasTrak system and won't notice much of a change, except that everyone will be allowed to pass through the unmanned booths without stopping to pay a toll.
For everyone else, roughly 30 percent of bridge users, it's going to take some getting used to.
All-electronic tolls were approved for the Golden Gate in 2011 to ease congestion and close a projected $66 million, five-year shortfall in the bridge district's budget.
The system will cost $3.4 million to implement, including $520,000 to publicize the changes. It is projected to save the district $16.8 million over an eight-year period. The savings includes the loss of 28 full-time toll-takers.
Bridge officials delayed testing the new system until later this month as they continue to work out the kinks. Seattle's Highway 520 floating bridge currently relies on all-electronic tolls, as do a handful of other spans and roads across the nation.
Mary Currie, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge district, said the most visible change during the testing phase will be new signs informing motorists of the upcoming conversion.
Motorists who fail to pay a toll for whatever reason can expect to receive an invoice in the mail for just that amount. Unlike current policy, they will not be hit with an additional fine.
It's part of the transition to treating bridge users as "customers" and not as toll "evaders," said Sobel, who is chairman of the bridge's Electronic Toll Subcommittee.
"It may be a customer we haven't met yet," he said. "The signage will say, 'Keep moving, we'll find you.' "
For some, that could raise privacy concerns. Under the new system, cameras will photograph the front and rear license plates of every vehicle that crosses the bridge. The exception is FasTrak users, whose movements are monitored via battery-powered toll tags they carry with them.
"They don't need to know everywhere I go," said Natasha Pehrson, an infrequent Golden Gate traveler from Cazadero who would prefer to hand her money to a real person when she crosses the bridge.