Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Where is President Obama? The Golden Gate Bridge is Laying Off Its Toll Collectors

The Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, one of the seven modern wonders of the world, San Francisco’s and perhaps California’s most famous landmark, is going electronic. Today was the last day for the toll collectors on the Golden Gate Bridge. They will be replaced tomorrow by automation. The good news for the laid off tollbooth collectors is that they can now breathe easier. They will no longer be inhaling the toxic exhaust of the cars and trucks passing through their tollbooths. The new fee for using a transponder with Fas Trak or credit card is $5. It’s $6 for the equipment to read the car’s license plate and then send a bill. The estimated savings by laying off the 9 full time and 28 part time collectors is $16 million over 5 years. The District increased the speed limit through the toll plaza to 25MPH, up from 15MPH. There should now be fewer bottlenecks on the bridge. The estimated cost of installing the fully electronic system is $3.2 million. The estimated deficit for the District over the next 5 years is $66 million. People are being laid off to save money. Yet the Golden Gate Bridge, which opened in 1937, has long since paid off its bonds. Nor does it cost a small fortune to maintain the bridge and keep it painted orange. The Bridge tolls contributed 68.7% of the District’s revenues in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012, but expenditures for the bridge only equaled 25.6% of the budget. The Golden Gate Bridge is a cash cow. The Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District is another story. It is a fiscal black hole. or more accurately a red morass. The directors of the Bridge District would not rest on their laurels by paying off the original bridge bonds. Like any bureaucracy, they had to find a new purpose in life, a new meaning for their existence. They settled on mass transit, a guaranteed money-losing proposition. The Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District purchased the money losing Greyhound Bus commuter service from San Francisco to Marin County, turning it into the money losing Golden Gate Transit Bus Service (GGT). The GGT generates 8.3% of the District’s revenues, but consumes 44.5% of the expenditures. Not satisfied with the money losing bus system, the District then inaugurated a picturesque ferry service between Larkspur in Marin County and San Francisco. It only ran a 5.7% differential between the revenues and expenditures. Roughly 38 million vehicles crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in FY 2012, compared to 6.5 million bus passengers and 2.2 million ferry riders. The District laid off the toll collectors to further subsidize the mass transit operations. The bridge collector cutbacks are not a new development. Bridges shifted from collecting tolls both ways to one side only with doubled tolls decades ago. (Parking lots are increasingly automating their fee collections.) Why isn’t President Obama complaining about the displacement of the toll collectors, public employees all? He is seemingly opposed to this type of technological advance, especially when it results in the layoffs. He said in a June 14, 2012 in an interview with NBC’s Ann Curry “There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.” He almost sounded like a Luddite, complaining of automation. He sounded ignorant of economic efficiency. The tollbooth collectors can now join the ranks of parking lot attendants, elevator operators, and switchboard operators. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cannot blame this one on sequestration.

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