Never, however, have I crossed a toll bridge that made it impossible to pay the toll. At least not until a recent visit to the San Francisco Bay Area. Every single lane was designated for FasTrak without a single lane devoted to paying in cash.
There are (or were) Bay Area bridges that imposed a toll on the inbound routes into San Francisco and the East Bay. Yet they let drivers get out of the city faster — to avoid traffic backups in town — by not stopping outbound vehicles at toll gates. I thought that the route from east to west across the San Mateo Bridge might just be an example of that.
The route cause
My original route would have taken me north along the coast. A car problem, though, sent me inland to a dealer for repair. The detour changed my direction from south-north to east-west, and that involved crossing a bridge (or driving an extra hundred miles around the bottom the bay). It was, clearly, an unplanned event.
A month after the end of my journey, Bay Area FasTrak sent me a bill. For the toll! Apparently, Bay Area planners decided that, in the environs of Silicon Valley, everyone is digital and everyone uses FasTrak. That includes visitors, apparently.
Not everybody knows that
According to the Bay Area FasTrak website, visitors can pay in advance online or pay in cash at various locations around the bay. They can, if they’re visiting from farther points and renting cars to get around, arrange payment with the rental company. That’s fine if you’re planning in advance and are really detailed about understanding local requirements. Like bridge tolls. If you’re simply passing through, the Bay Areas’s perspective is truly myopic.
It would be astronomically costly for Bay Area FasTrak to advertise in every city that sends travelers to San Francisco and its multitude of nearby towns and cities. It might also require some dealmaking to have airline and rail tickets imprinted with the toll payment information. But it’s also expensive to print and mail out as many as, I assume, tens of thousands of notices every year to non-Fastrak travelers who happen to cross a Bay Area bridge.
I don’t mind paying the toll. I tried my best to do it when I made the trip across. It does, however bother me when I attempt to pay online and learn “Account and payment access will be unavailable on the website, through the telephone system, and at cash payment network locations due to planned system maintenance. Email inquiries via the FasTrak website will also be disabled during this time period.” Of course, no “time period” is given.
I could pay by check and send it by mail, but that makes it costlier for me. I’d be paying for a stamp and taking the chance that, in Louis De Joy’s Postal Service, it might never be delivered, which would subject me to a penalty fee.
The other alternative is to ignore it. They had their chance to take my money, and they didn’t make it possible. Their bad, not mine. Or I could wait awhile and see whether their website or phone system get finished being “maintenanced.” One way or another, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.