The Golden Gate Bridge will begin testing a new system today that is expected to make the iconic span one of the few in the world to convert to all-electronic tolls.
Motorists will not notice any immediate changes on the bridge, where human toll-takers will still be on hand to collect money the old-fashioned way.
But behind the scenes, a revolution is under way that promises to alter how millions of people interact with the span.
"It's time for motorists who use the Golden Gate to think about what their preferred payment options are when full conversion takes place in 60 days," said Mary Currie, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District.
Starting today, motorists who fail to pay a toll for whatever reason can expect to receive an invoice in the mail for just that amount, as opposed to the current policy that levels an additional fine.
Motorists have 21 days to pay the toll without penalty. A $25 fine is tacked on if it is not paid 30 days after that. The matter is then referred to the DMV, which can place a hold on the vehicle's registration until the fine is taken care of.
It's part of the transition to treating bridge users as "customers" and not as toll "evaders."
Also starting today, motorists can go online to register their license plates and credit card information with the bridge district and pay tolls as they are incurred.
This differs from FasTrak, which keeps a minimum balance in prepaid accounts.
Information about pay-by-plate accounts can be found at goldengate.org/tolls. Cash and credit card accounts also can be created over the phone or in person with the bridge district.
Tourists or anyone else who knows they will be making a trip across the bridge in advance have the option of making toll payments up to 30 days prior to their visit, or use the other payment methods offered to more frequent bridge travelers.
Drivers who don't have FasTrak or a pay-by-plate account have about 48 hours after they cross the bridge to pay the toll before an invoice is sent. That eventually can be taken care of at payment kiosks that are to be installed at the bridge, at gas stations and at other locations along thoroughfares leading to and from the Golden Gate, although not in Sonoma County initially.
FasTrak users will continue to pay a discounted toll of $5. Most everyone else will continue to pay $6.
Need a receipt?
Currie said FasTrak and license plate account holders receive statements with that information. People who make a one-time payment using a credit card can use those statements as a record of the transaction.
Eventually, payments made at one of the kiosks also will come with a receipt.
The new system could be fully operational by March.
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.