Not So FasT

Can anyone explain why there’s so much resistance to FasTrak?

That’s a serious question.

But let me back up. For those of you not in California, FasTrak is the local automated toll payment system. Currently used for bridge tolls, but in the not too distant future, it’ll probably also be used for paid access to express lanes. There’s a radio-triggered transponder in the car; when it’s tripped, a toll is debited from the user’s account.

The reason I ask is that this past weekend I got stuck in a multi-hour traffic jam on my way to work. The cause, as far as I can tell, was the non-FasTrak users blocking all the lanes as they tried to move across the freeway into the Cash Lane at the toll plaza.

This is not the first time I’ve gotten caught in one of these crunches–which is why I’d allowed enough time to get to work on schedule despite the jam–but it was definitely the worst.

I can’t believe so many thousand people don’t know that they’re going to have to get into the Cash Lane, nor that they don’t know they’re going to have to pay.

So there must be some reason they don’t sign up with FasTrak.

Granted, the program has some features I’m not happy with. Most notably, if you back your account with a credit card, FasTrak controls when your balance will be replenished and how much they’ll put in each time. But if that’s a problem, just don’t give them a credit card. Mail them a check or money order periodically. Or manage the account actively. If you make a manual deposit when the account gets low, the automatic payment won’t trigger.

The main concern I hear is about privacy. “I don’t want the government to know where I’m driving.” It’s a legitimate concern.

But FasTrak isn’t the problem. The toll plaza cameras record every license plate that goes through, whether you’re using FasTrak or paying cash. Sure, it’s partly–even mostly–to back up the FasTrak readers, but it’s also to catch toll evaders and to protect toll takers. If memory serves, the cameras were there before FasTrak.

Bottom line, the state knows where you’re driving. Or can figure it out with minimal effort.

And FasTrak does allow you to set up an anonymous account. No name or vehicle identification attached. Pay cash. Sure, they can use the camera data to tie your vehicle to the transponder, but see above–they can figure out who you are anyway.

I’ve also heard “It’s too expensive.”

Well, okay. If you use cash, there’s a $20 deposit for the transponder. But that will be returned, albeit without interest, if you return it in good shape. That aside, tolls are the same or lower if you use FasTrak. I’m not buying that argument.

How much is your time worth? If you’re on an hourly salary, you know exactly how much sitting in traffic costs you.

“I’d only use it occasionally.” So? There’s no charge for not using it. Why wouldn’t you get it for that one drive across a bridge a month or a year? If you go three years without using it, they’ll close your account and refund your outstanding balance. And if you use it enough to keep the account active, you’ll save time on those infrequent trips.

Look, I try to be among the first to condemn silly or stupid uses of technology. But I don’t think FasTrak falls into either of those categories.

So why do so many people think otherwise?