Covered at Reason 24/7: Automated Tolls Track Everybody Crossing Golden Gate Bridge


Reason 24/7

You have to run an intrusive  security gauntlet to board an airplane. Gone are the days of traveling Amtrak anonymously — the nation's skanky, money-losing, publicly owned railroad now requires photo identification to buy a ticket. You even have to show ID for most bus lines. But, at least you can get behind the wheel of your car and travel the roads with some anonymity. You can cruise— What's that? Oh, never mind. Starting this week, almost everybody crossing the Golden Gate bridge must submit to identification by either RFID or by license-plate recognition cameras hooked into the Department of Motor Vehicles database. There is a provision for anonymous FasTrak accounts, but it's neither convenient nor widely advertised.

Happy motoring.

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Yesterday, the Golden Gate Bridge switched to all-electronic tolling. As of March 27, drivers entering San Francisco no longer have the option to pay the $6 cash toll to a human toll collector. Unfortunately, all of the bridge's electronic payment options track the identities of those paying the toll, and all represent a loss of privacy for visitors or commuters entering San Francisco by car. The current implementation of electronic tolling here (and elsewhere) is unnecessarily privacy-invasive and represents a missed opportunity to collect tolls electronically in more privacy-friendly ways.

Since March 27, motorists entering San Francisco have three different payment options. One option involves recognizing an RFID token in the motorist's vehicle, while the remaining two use a camera to photograph and recognize the license plate. (A cute new animation from the bridge operator explains the options, though not their privacy consequences.)

Don't miss Reason's coverage of the spreading use of license-plate cameras on roads hither and yon in this great, non-anonymous country.

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  1. One final surveillance state farewell for those escaping San Fran, one hearty anti-privacy welcome for those entering. Big government thrives on data about its citizens.

    1. How else would they know where to send the Free Stuff? ?

  2. One of the things I find fascinating about the Golden Gate Bridge is that it’s one of the biggest suicide places in the world, yet the city is too cheap to put up a net to save lives…

    1. Not sure why they should waste the money. People will off themselves anyways. Whether by jumping off the bridge or putting a 22 to their head.

      1. But that would be GUN VIOLENCE!!! (Insert dramatic musical phrase here.)

  3. The Golden Gate Bridge is privately-owned. The publicly-owned bridges in the area are not doing this. One can still pay an anonymous cash toll on all the other bridges.

    1. Define privately owned?…..n_District

      1. It’s definitely the bastard offspring of gov’t, and it didn’t have to be that way. It was private, and it was paid off from the tolls.
        The problem was the trustees then had little to do at that point, so they started bus and ferry service, since both were really required for the public good (IOWs, the trustees found a way to avoid having to look for a job). Once they got into transit, there was no way to keep it “private” in CA.
        So now it’s just one more political trash-bucket in which to toss termed-out gas-bags.

  4. My 2011 drive from the midwest to California included a stretch around Denver on the E470 toll road. The E470 web site informed me that all I had to do was drive the route, they would photograph my out of state plate and send me a bill. That was almost two years ago. Haven’t seen any request for payment yet.
    I later learned that the clear plastic cover over my license plate may have prevented a clear shot by the camera. Damn. What a shame.

  5. What about rental cars? Will the rental company have to send you a bill later?

    I can understand why they would want to save on labour costs, but why can’t they have a tollgate machine that will take cash?

    1. The local rental companies generally have accounts set up with the local toll systems. In Boston they gave me a FastLane and charged me later. Same for the two toll beltways they have in Denver, the bill goes to the rental car company and they parse the charges according to when each customer had the car.

      It’s a pain in the ass for business travel since you don’t get your full receipts for a month. I usually just eat the tolls when it happens.

    2. A platypus asking about his bill. Nice.

      1. They don’t do much, you know.

  6. Sometimes man, you jsut have to wonder about that. Wow.

  7. I’ve heard the toll roads in MA will be phasing this in over the next couple of years.

  8. Got a toll bill in the mail after driving in Tampa. It looked like a cheap piece of junk mail – we almost threw it out. Conspiracy theorist that I am, I wondered if that was intentional, since the fee/fine for not paying a toll would pay for a whole lot of tolls.

    Recently drove on the FL turnpike and went through several camera toll booths. Had a bike rack in the trailer hitch with two bikes. I don’t see how I’ll get billed – but I have an unusual car with a vanity plate – I’d guess if I’m billed then it means their computer is rather smart, or some human can put two and two together.

    1. Yeah, we have had this license plate ID system for tolls in Florida for a while now. They call it toll by plate. Mostly it is on Florida’s Turnpike, but there’s a big stretch of 95 in Miami that has a 2-lane “HOV” toll lane.

      Many of the tiny municipalities (like Manalapan and Atlantis) down here also record everyone entering and leaving. There’s traffic cams on a large percentage of traffic lights where license plate recognition could be in operation as well.

      For a lot of people in south Florida the turnpike is the primary artery, just like the Golden Gate in SF. It can’t really be avoided for many commuters. But on the bright side you don’t have to actually hear Sgt. Shultz demand to see your papers.

    2. Got a front plate?

      1. No front plates in FL.

        1. Yeah, just asking.

  9. One of these days someone is going to loan out his car and hide his cellphone in the trunk. Then it’s GTA ninja time on the town. Nothing like having an automated alibi.

  10. It’s every terrorists dream: crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Surely, hundreds, even thousands of would-be terrorists will be captured.

    Hopefully, Yellowstone’s Old Faithful is similarly guarded. Surely, it’s on the terrorist’s 1000 places to go and die.

  11. Heard this story from a coworker. Someone in his family lent a utility trailer to a friend who had Sunpass (the pre paid FL pass). Well, the guy who was moving merrily drove through the Sunpass lanes multiple times. Later, the good samaritan who lent him the trailer got several hundred dollars worth of fines because the camera was picking up the trailer plate.

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