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July/August 2007

Commuter News:
Toll Plaza Innovations Boost FasTrak® Advantage

BATA and Caltrans are phasing in more FasTrak®-only lanes this summer, starting with the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge (shown here after the lane reconfiguration in July). Photo: Noah Berger

The Bay Area’s FasTrak electronic toll collection program shifts into even higher gear this summer as more lanes at the region’s state-owned toll bridges are converted to FasTrak-only, striping of the FasTrak-only lanes is greatly extended and the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA, which is run by MTC) offers free toll incentives for motorists to pay their tolls the high-tech way. Officials expect the combination of toll plaza improvements and an aggressive marketing campaign to boost the number of FasTrak customers by 20 percent over the next year.

FasTrak enrollment already has surged by nearly 100,000 accounts since last fall, to more than 650,000 regionwide. Nearly half of all vehicles crossing the Bay Area’s state toll bridges during peak hours now use FasTrak to pay tolls electronically, up from an average of 40 percent a year ago.

FasTrak allows drivers to prepay bridge tolls and zip through toll plazas without stopping. There are no fees to open or maintain a FasTrak account, and no deposit is required when customers use a credit card to open their account and request three or fewer toll tags. New customers who pick up toll tags at select Safeway stores or Costco warehouses and register their accounts during July or August will receive up to $10 in free tolls.

Because FasTrak-only lanes can accommodate about three times as many vehicles per hour as lanes where drivers have to stop and pay cash, the addition of more such lanes will increase the efficiency of the toll plazas and help ease congestion on the toll bridge approaches. But the lane conversions are likely to create additional delays for cash toll payers — especially during peak travel periods.

“Cash payers will have fewer lanes available. So we’re encouraging everyone to sign up for FasTrak now to avoid possible delays in the cash lanes,” said Rod McMillan, director of Bridge and Highway Operations for MTC.

At the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toll plaza, the number of lanes set aside exclusively for FasTrak customers during peak hours will go from the current seven to eight. BATA and Caltrans also are converting more lanes to FasTrak-only at the Carquinez, Richmond-San Rafael and San Mateo-Hayward bridges.

The FasTrak-only lanes at the Bay Bridge will be strategically placed to allow easy access for FasTrak-equipped vehicles approaching the bridge from Interstates 80, 580 or 880. At all other state-owned toll bridges, FasTrak-only lanes will be grouped to the left and FasTrak/cash to the right.

Caltrans and BATA are extending FasTrak lane striping and installing new signage on approaches to the state-owned bridges to separate cash payers and FasTrak customers farther in advance of the toll plazas. The toll plaza configuration at the Golden Gate Bridge will not be changed. In another boost for electronic payment, peak-hour carpool lanes at the Carquinez Bridge and San Mateo-Hayward Bridge toll plazas will convert to FasTrak-only lanes during nonpeak hours.

Opening in late August, the new Benicia-Martinez span will allow cars with FasTrak to cross at highway speeds thanks to open-road tolling technology. (Photo: John Huseby, Caltrans)

The new span of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, which opens in late August, is in a class by itself. It will feature a state-of-the-art toll plaza employing so-called open-road tolling technology. Also known as FasTrak Express, the twin open-road tolling lanes will allow drivers to safely pass through the toll area at normal highway speeds without slowing down. Overhead antennae will read the FasTrak toll tag and a computer system will automatically deduct tolls from motorists’ accounts. Cameras will record the license-plate numbers of non-FasTrak vehicles, and a violation notice will be mailed to drivers who fail to pay the toll.
— Ivy Morrison & John Goodwin

MTC’s Web site includes a link to an online FasTrak enrollment page, a schedule of lane conversions and lane diagrams at each toll plaza, and a map of Costco and Safeway locations where FasTrak toll tags are available.

Customers can also visit the FasTrak Customer Service Center at 475 The Embarcadero (at Broadway) in San Francisco or phone 511 and say “FasTrak.”