Q As a toll collector on the Carquinez Bridge, I can tell you that people are clueless about FasTrak.

John-the-Toll-Booth-Guy

Hercules

A Why might that be?

Q Our jobs are thankless enough, and yes, we do lose our patience when a commuter pulls up during rush hour with a line of 20 cars behind them and wants to discuss their transponder concerns.

John-the-Toll-Booth-Guy

A Not the time for chitchat, eh?

Q First off, toll collectors collect cash tolls. We have nothing to do with FasTrak. The other day, you had a question about a transponder not beeping. People put way too much importance in their transponder beeping.

The transponder doesn't need to beep. The transponder doesn't even need to be in the vehicle, as you can have several cars on one account.

Please inform people to stay out of the FasTrak/cash lanes and just stay in the FasTrak lanes. Yes, I know it's posted that they can mix it up with cash-paying commuters, but this leads to many problems and the toll collector has very little control over these problems, which lead to improper violations being mailed out. If they insist on using the cash lanes, please just drive through and don't stop to ask us questions!

If FasTrak patrons have registered with FasTrak properly, the system will take a picture of their license plate and bill their account. No beep required.


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John-the-Toll-Booth-Guy

A Points made. Anything else?

Q I will also address a very common problem that FasTrak patrons should be made aware of: If you insist on keeping your transponder in your vehicle and your account has become invalid for whatever reason, you are gambling every time you come through and paying cash. Even though the account is invalid, it doesn't stop the transponder from going off, and when it does go off it's an automatic violation unless the toll collector cancels the transaction.

The ability of the toll collector canceling a transaction depends on when the transponder transmits. The transmitting depends on many factors, with the biggest being where in the vehicle the transponder is. Many people figure the account's invalid, so they throw it in the trunk, the back seat, under the front seat, etc. They pay the cash toll and drive off with the next vehicle inches away.

Many times that next vehicle just drives through without paying, so the toll collector hasn't a clue what vehicle had the invalid transponder in it, which leaves the person who paid the cash toll on the hook for the person behind them that rode through for free. This causes complications when one takes into consideration that a toll collector can register a car every six seconds in heavy traffic.

At the toll plaza of the Richmond San Rafael Bridge, 2005.
At the toll plaza of the Richmond San Rafael Bridge, 2005. (Bay Area News Group)

John-the-Toll-Booth-Guy

A Lecture delivered.

Q In a recent column you wrote: "If you use FasTrak and the transponder isn't read, cameras will capture your license plate number and your account will be charged. We have three cars on our FasTrak account and one transponder, and we correctly get charged when any one of our vehicles crosses a bridge, transponder or not."

My question: Why do people need FasTrak transponders at all? Why not just set up an account at FasTrak.org with license plate numbers, let the cameras read and charge our accounts from license plates, and then not bother with transponder readers at tollbooths?

Michael Rickabaugh

Sunnyvale

A Here's why: The camera system is in place on our bridges but not at the express/toll lanes on Interstate 680 and at the 237-880 interchange, so a toll tag is necessary for a solo driver to pay to use these lanes.

Also, the camera system is not perfect. Some bridge users have received incorrect toll violation notices because the cameras read an "E" as an "F" or a "Z" as a "7."

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