Wednesday, October 6, 2021

This is Taking a Toll on Me

I went over a toll bridge in the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of last month. They have completely done away with toll booth operators, in favor of taking a picture of your license plate and mailing you a bill. With no one there manning the booth, I guess they just expect you to be rude to yourself on the way through now.

I always figured they were still collecting tolls just to pay the toll workers in some insane government catch-22. I just assumed, based on Bay Area traffic volume, that each toll worker must make about $3000 an hour. I guess that wasn’t the case.

So, since they got rid of the workers, I guess all the money just goes to the bridge now. What a fun way to pay for a bridge that has already been fully paid for by the tolls about six zillion times.

Anyway, I got the $6.00 automated bridge toll invoice from Bay Area Fastrak in the mail the other day, and I picked it up yesterday morning to pay it. You just have to go to and enter your credit card info. Neat-o.

As I was about to go to the website, the license plate number listed on the bill caught my eye. I was driving our Honda Accord that day, but the license plate number listed was the one on our Ford Expedition. Hmm… Did they just look up our name with the Honda plate and then the computer defaulted to another one of our cars when creating the bill? That would be weird, but plausible.

Then I noticed in the upper right corner of the bill there was a downward-facing picture of the front of our car going through the toll booth. There was the hood and bumper of our Accord with our Ford’s license plate clearly visible below the Honda emblem.

What the hell??? Did some prankster in our neighborhood sneak onto our driveway one night and swap our plates around? No. Who would do that and why?

Wait a minute, here. That’s not the date I was in the Bay Area. And this says I went over the Antioch bridge. That is not the bridge I was on.

I don’t think that’s my Honda. Did someone steal our license plate and attach it to their Honda?

Nope, all plates accounted for.

Hang on a second. Let me put on another pair of readers and double my magnification on this picture… Son of a biscuit, that’s not a C. It’s a G! Some Honda owner has a plate that is only one very similar-looking letter different than mine.

Dammit! This invoice is going to be $6 plus $25 more if I just ignore it, and I think that’s just for the first month.

I guess I am going to after all… Oh, look. What a shock. There is no place on this fabulous website to handle this. Yay, I get to call them!

Thank you calling the Bay Area Fastrak customer service center. We are currently experiencing longer than average wait times to speak with a customer service representative. We recommend calling back later in the week when we anticipate a shorter wait time, or you can visit us at our website,

How the hell can you anticipate shorter wait times later in the week? Do you mostly send people someone else’s invoice over the weekends? And I already went to the website. There’s no section for, “Hey, you butt munches, this isn’t my car!”

Press one for English.

If you have a question about your notice of toll evasion, or would like to pay your notice of toll evasion fines over the phone, press one. If you have a question about…

Sixty-seven phone menu tree branches and a full five minutes later, Your wait time in approximately fifteen minutes.

What followed was possibly the worst hold music to ever exist. It was the same fifteen-second tune (I had time to count), played over and over on a loop, and it sounded like it was being piped through one of those giant WWII-era military loudspeakers, except the loudspeaker had been hit by a mortar shell. It was so tinny, my dog ran out of the room.

Every sixty seconds, or four “musical” loops, the recorded voice would come back on and tell me all about how great the website was and how I could definitely handle my transaction there. Then it would update my wait time by subtracting one minute from the previous estimate.

But the twenty seconds it took the voice to tell me about the website every minute was never factored into the declining minute timer. So, the sixteen times I heard about how great the website was (they told me twice that I had one minute remaining on my wait) really added more than five minutes to my wait. (I had time to do the math, while I prayed that my ears would fall off.)

Amazingly, when my friendly toll customer service professional finally came on the line, it was very easy to clear up the problem. I told her it wasn’t my car and that I thought the license plate was one letter off from mine. She had immediate access to multiple pictures of the car on her computer and was able to zoom in on the rear plate and read it clearly. It was, in fact, a G and not a C.

She also laughed at one point when looking at her pictures and said, “Oh, yeah, ha! That’s a guy wearing a white shirt,” as if that was further evidence that this was a mistake.

Umm… you’re on the phone with me. I’m clearly a guy. Do I not sound like I own any white shirts? Why would that… never mind. Whatever. She removed the charge from my account. That’s all I care about.

So, Bay Area Fastrak, I just want to thank you for the twenty-eight minutes of my life that it took to fix a problem that you created and had absolutely nothing to do with me in the first place.

And just a thought here, but how about we invest some of those (literally) millions of dollars y’all are collecting every month in a camera system that can tell a C from a G? That would be great.

But in the meantime, feel free to send my actual toll bill from the end of last month to someone with a similar license plate as my Honda. I appreciate it!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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