Another Nail in the Coffin for Disadvantaged Californians

golden gate bridge by night in...
golden gate bridge by night in...

I love California -- it's an amazing state, and I think it's one of the most beautiful states there is. It's also the land of opportunity and ethnicity. But it's not a state that is easy to be poor in. It's not only expensive to live here, but we continue to make things more and more difficult for the economically disadvantaged. Case in point: soon it won't be as easy to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge if you only have cash to pay your toll with.

Starting on March 27th the Golden Gate Bridge will no longer accept cash for tolls. That's right -- no more dollar bills accepted at the toll gate. The Golden Gate Bridge will be the first "all electronic" bridge in California. It's a big statement about the evolution of technology. And the Highway and Transportation District is so excited; they've already laid off the toll takers. There is no turning back.

What does that mean to me? For me personally, it doesn't mean much. I've had a Fast Track for years. Certainly for me, it's easy enough to use one of the options available to go electronic.

But, what about those riders who only use cash? Do these people still exist? Of course they do. There are San Franciscans who can't afford computers and aren't eligible for credit cards. There are people who don't understand technology and credit, and people who don't use banks. There are people who go straight from cashing a paycheck to paying their rent and utilities in person. They're grateful to buy groceries for the kids and gas for the car until next payday- but there's not much left after that.

There are many working people in San Francisco that are just barely able to make a living. It's the layer of people who aren't really eligible for public services, but don't actually make enough to live easily. That is who is paying cash at the toll gate, until now.

All the options for Golden Gate Bridge tolls now require a computer and a credit card except one. That's to go and pay at a "cash payment location." Within 48 hours of riding across the bridge, you must go to one of the designated businesses in the bay area to pay your toll in cash.

As usual, it's the least advantaged of us that will see the biggest change on the 27th. They will be forced to use the least convenient option. Driving to one of these locations to make this cash payment will be a big challenge for them.

Now, as a Californian, I know we're kinda quirky. Remember, we are the state that added additional privacy laws for Californians because the national privacy laws weren't good enough. We get behind the things we believe in -- and that's good. So it's surprising to me that we've allowed this change on the 27th to impact the group that's the least able to handle it.

Sure, I know the goal of electronic payment technology is to save money. That's hard to argue with, since this new electronic system is said to save $16 million over eight years. Those are big numbers, but $2 million a year savings is peanuts compared to the $230 million or so annual budget. I guess once people fell in love with that idea of saving it, momentum took over, and here we are.

Still, I think it's a shame -- that again, the ones that can bear the least amount of burden are bearing most of the burden here. I love technology, I love San Francisco -- but this change makes me uneasy. I feel like the citizens (me included) have failed to do as much as we can to bear the burden equally. Everyone in SF deserves to be taken into account when solutions are designed like this.