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tag! you’re tolled!

By enelson
Friday, August 10th, 2007 at 7:53 pm in 511, Bridges, driving, Freeways, Funding, tolls.

I was giddy with excitement last night when I went through the Carquinez Bridge toll plaza and realized that Saturday there’d be one extra FasTrak-only lane and that that stupid no-lane approach would be changed to a 3,000-foot FasTrak-only lane.

For those of you unfamiliar with the way of ETC (electronic toll collection), using the FasTrak lanes at the Carquinez often involves crossing a white line, as if you weren’t supposed to use FasTrak.

I guessed that the reasoning behind it was something like, “if you have an electronic toll tag, you must know where you’re going,” and “if you’re a tourist and paying cash, you ought to be scared away from the FasTrak lanes so you don’t A) Go through without paying your $4, or B) Make a sudden last-second lane change when you realize you’ve gone the wrong way.”

But this is 2007, and if you don’t get the whole FasTrak thing, you shouldn’t be crossing toll bridges. A marker above the lane that says “FasTrak Only” 3,000 feet before the toll booths ought to be enough warning, right?

A similar lane reconfiguration was done at the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge and Antioch Bridge.

Lucky for me, I left my transponder behind when I had to go from our office near Oakland Coliseum to San Francisco International Airport, so I got to see what inconvenience was in store for those neolithic cash payers who must be dragged by the hair into the 21st century.

Even luckier, I knew the secret of keeping right and using the cluster of three cash booths, which the untutored probably miss and are forced to wait in line for the remaining booth. The bottom line was that it wasn’t bad both times I’ve had to cross.

The Carquinez is on my way home, so that will be special indeed the next time I go home, zipping by all the motorists weaving as they fish for crumpled greenbacks, or better yet, sitting in long lines for fewer cash booths.
 What’s to complain about?

In my smugness, I tend to forget the insidious psychology behind FasTrak, which has recently been confirmed by some study or other that I may or may not have seen recently. It doesn’t matter, because it’s all a big conspiracy.

I know, I know, I make light of the seemingly limitless supply of Bay Area denizens who think that driving around with electronic transponders allow the government to keep tabs on our movement.

As it happens, the government DOES keep tabs on us, at least if you count the Metropolitan Transportation Commission as a government.

Through the good offices of the Bay Area Toll Authority and the 511 transportation information system, the average commuter can call 511 and get driving times from, say, Oakland Coliseum to San Francisco Airport. It tells you which way is faster, and how many minutes it currently takes to get there. Right now, I know it takes 1 hour, 21 minutes to drive to Fairfield, instead of the optimal 48 minutes, thanks to their marvelous service.

But I also know that the 511 computer, which my paranoid friends like to call Skynet, figures out driving times by picking up the signal from thousands of FasTrak tags that pass by their side-of-the-road sensors.

Now, MTC tells me that they don’t monitor WHO is passing by, they just get data on how fast everybody’s moving through the system.

But what’s to stop them?

Personally, I don’t care if they’re FasTracking my every move.

I care about the other conspiracy, the one where FasTrak alters our brains, and trust me, tinfoil doesn’t help.

Here’s how it works: I pay cash for tolls, and each time I dig into my pocket, I tell myself, “Hey, that’s another four bucks you just spent!.”

Then I get FasTrak, and, as of Saturday, I’m driving down my new 3,000 foot approach lane, passing all those poor cash-paying schlubs, feelin’ groovy, listenin’ to that gentle “beep-beep” and reading that display that says “ETC OK.”

Ahh. That didn’t hurt a bit.

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2 Responses to “tag! you’re tolled!”

  1. Brian Says:

    If your vehicle is registered with FasTrak, you can cruise through the FasTrak lanes even if you left your transponder at home. A picture of your license plate will be snapped and matched to your account, and you’ll be billed for the toll just as if you’d used the transponder. Most FasTrak users don’t seem to know this, and some hesitate at the toll booth if their transponder doesn’t beep, but there’s no need to. If you’re in the system, you’re in the system, transponder or no. Just remember to keep Caltrans up to date if you buy a new car.

    Given the advances in automatic license plate reading technology, the FasTrak transponders are essentially obsolete at this point. London tracks every vehicle as it moves throughout the city (and automatically charges the congestion charge to those entering the central part of the city). NYC is looking at installing a similar system, and if SF goes ahead with its congestion charge, it will almost certainly do the same.

    The operators of these automatic license plate readers most certainly do NOT make the guarantee that MTC does to destroy identifying information. This class of data is often gathered by those with the best intentions and then abused by those with the worst.

  2. Samatakah Says:

    When a friend expressed concern about being tracked by John Ashcroft via the transponders, my husband replied, “Ashcroft *should* be watching me, so that the people who are trying to do something about the Bush Administration suborning the Constitution can get their work done.”

    My husband, the decoy. (-:

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