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I was traveling to San Francisco last weekend and went through the Golden Gate Bridge. I have just received an 8 USD toll invoice by mail (they use a plate reader).

Is the toll fee indicated to the car drivers before entering the bridge? I didn't see any sign but could have missed it as it was at night (and street signs in the US aren't that well designed).

The toll seems to only apply for the outside San Francisco -> inside San Francisco bridge direction (i.e., ~southbound).

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    @FranckDernoncourt Toll isn't a retail establishment subject to consumer protections. The Golden Gate Bridge is owned by a governmental body and tolls are set by public process then written into law. You need to find the exact law that says tolls must be posted. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for noncompliance. – user71659 Jul 21 '18 at 21:37
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    @user71659 Thanks, that's a good point, I wonder: Do toll fees have to be indicated ahead of time to be enforceable in the United States? – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 21 '18 at 21:51
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    @JonathanReez Another rationale is learning how tolls are indicated in the US. – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 21 '18 at 21:57
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    @smci While I agree the signage is bad and surprises people, the southbound signs are of minimal value to visitors, since your options at that point are basically to pay the toll, abandon your car in Marin, or if you're completely opposed to tolls: a grand bay tour via Milpitas that will cost you more in gas than the toll. Better signage on the northbound direction would make a lot more sense, so people can exit before they cross the bridge. – Zach Lipton Jul 22 '18 at 7:10
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    @WeatherVane Laws exist. See Do toll fees have to be indicated ahead of time in the United States to be enforceable?. Taking fees "on the chin" without thinking is encouraging illegal fees. – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 22 '18 at 21:48
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First, there's a "LAST EXIT BEFORE TOLL" sign alerting you that you have 1/2 mile to exit before the toll.

Then, there's a sign advising you to call 511 for "travel info" and "toll info." Not a particularly useful sign, but it does further indicate the presence of a toll ahead.

Then there's another a "LAST EXIT BEFORE TOLL" sign at the southbound Alexander Avenue exit, which is your last chance to get off before driving over the bridge. The sign stating the toll price is a short distance after the exit; you're already committed at the point you see it.

If you enter the freeway from that last exit, you'll find two TOLL signs and an opportunity to go right (to cross the bridge and pay the toll) or left (to go north, which is not tolled).

The toll information is also on the bridge's website. The toll is authorized by federal law; I wouldn't spend a lot of time trying to fight it. The bridge district's ordinance states:

LIABILITY FOR TOLLS The driver of every vehicle, except a bicycle and as otherwise provided in this Master Ordinance, which enters upon the Bridge, shall become immediately liable for the toll charge prescribed by the Board of Directors of the District for the passage of such vehicle over the Bridge.

As a practical matter, there's no real way to avoid some toll if you want to get back to San Francisco, short of an extremely long detour. A 20+ mile detour will mean you pay the (slightly lower) Bay Bridge toll instead, while a completely toll-free route would add about 100 miles to go around the Bay.

And yes, the toll only applies southbound (into SF). Driving northbound is free. Walking or biking the bridge is also free.

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    @FranckDernoncourt there is a yellow TOLL sign at the intersection you mention, giving drivers plenty of time to opt out. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Jul 21 '18 at 21:40
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    @FranckDernoncourt There's another toll sign at the Alexander Avenue on-ramp where you have the opportunity to go right onto the bridge (and pay the toll) or left (to go northbound and not pay the toll). – Zach Lipton Jul 21 '18 at 21:51
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    @FranckDernoncourt there is another toll sign further up on Alexander Ave, giving drivers plenty of time to make a decision. There's plenty of badly signed toll roads out there, but Golden Gate bridge is definitely not one of them. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Jul 21 '18 at 21:53
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    @Harper San Francisco filed a lawsuit against Hertz over such practices last year. The case is ongoing. – Zach Lipton Jul 22 '18 at 23:08
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    @ZachLipton yeah I got nailed by one of those on a 21 day rental, I paid cash for one 35 cent toll in Chicago, but it also scanned the EZpass, this triggered an $8/day charge that covered all tolls. If I had known that, I would have spent the 21 days crossing the GW over and over. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 22 '18 at 23:29
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Yes, the toll signs are plainly displayed, and at least two on any approach. You can fire up Google Earth or Google Maps, drag the "little man" figure to any of the blue lines on the map, and enter Street View (which are photos taken from roving automobiles with special cameras on their roof) and travel US-101 or Doyle virtually and see the signs for yourself.

Your answer is that you missed the signs. That is either because you have not developed the habit of reading signs, or the approaches to the Golden Gate are fairly high on "pilot workload", and you may have had other safety tasks which took priority for your attention.

Signs in the US have several color schemes:

  • Red, Crossbucks, and Circles - urgent warning signs
  • Orange - construction zones
  • Yellow - important/compulsory navigational signs (e.g. Merge or Curve Ahead
  • Green - navigational signs, which you can disregard if you know the route
  • Blue and brown - roadside services, attractions and points of interest, which you disregard if your trip is planned.

The signs describing the route to the Golden Gate Bridge are green or blue, but all the toll-related signs are yellow, often an inset on a green or blue sign (which itself is notably weird to the experienced eye). Part of the rhythm and flow of driving is learning what to ignore; I could see where someone unpracticed in US driving could overload on the many blue, green and brown signs in the area.

What's more, most people use nav's ... And they neglect to tick the "Avoid Tolls" option. Some navs present a no-toll option as one of the three choices. However in this case, the shortest toll-free option is via I-580 and CA-237 in Milpitas/San Jose, not really viable.

We often get "Was this toll entrance properly signed?" I can tell from direct experience that I got out of a carpool lane ticket when signage was wrong by design. So it could happen, and I approve of arguing the point when it is so. It just isn't so here. You must pass and disregard at least 2 signs on every approach to this entrance.

One thing toll districts are starting to do is use purple signage. But even then, people swear they didn't see it.


"License plate scan without penalty" is the normal fare collection on the Golden Gate Bridge, and other systems are going to it as well because it's cheaper and faster than staffing toll takers. Golden Gate Bridge adopted this early, because there is simply no sane place to put the toll booths; the old toll booth setup was a dangerous nightmare.

Now some of these "license plate scan without penalty" systems have a discount for operating with a toll tag, and in some cases (Chesapeake crossing) the toll tags empower further multiple-trip discounts which can be substantial. Some people call this discount a "penalty against those who do not qualify for the discount". I think that's silly.

I also don't take much stock in the argument that "It's a huge, iconic suspension bridge that crosses a major frontier, how could anyone possibly imagine that it would be a toll crossing?"

Get used to the new world: Toll collection isn't like it was. If you have any reason to expect a toll, and you certainly did here, it is your responsibility to either a) figure out on advance how those tolls work and how to pay them, or b) be diligent about searching for "toll road entrance" warning signs. This is on you: if you don't do it, expect the nasty letter in the mail.

The toll collectors are really trying to help, e.g. by implementing "any car welcome, pay by plate" methods instead of $25 or $50 penalty whammos. The Golden Gate Bridge has signs advising you to pay by Website/plate in within 24hr of crossing.

A few people also scoff the law, on the belief they are untouchable due to being in another state or country. That won't work, and will get you a misdemeanor conviction in CA. But I have to say the US is on the back foot morally, since our diplomats refuse to pay tolls in foreign capital cities.

  • Thanks. From user71659's answer, there are 2 "last exit before toll" signs, which I find easy to miss, especially at night. Also, there is an entrance at that exit that seems to fail to indicate the presence of a toll before the driver may opt out. – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 21 '18 at 21:28
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    @FranckDernoncourt Untrue: the only way to reach that point is via this point here or this point here and both routes lead to yet an additional sign. I feel like this question has degraded into a "Google street view this for me" question. You are perfectly capable of being your own skeptic and doing it yourself. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 21 '18 at 22:02
  • @Harper my edit, just a missing letter (from Theirs as to theirs was). – Giorgio Jul 21 '18 at 22:46
  • Diplomats from all countries are exempt from tolls and parking / congestion charges in all the countries they are assigned to - they have diplomatic immunity. I don’t think the US diplomats not paying tolls is a reason for not collecting tolls! – Tim Jul 22 '18 at 17:52
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    @Tim diplomatic immunity does not exempt diplomats from tolls or parking charges; it just protects them from legal action to collect. It's the same as if they walked out of a restaurant without paying. – phoog Jul 23 '18 at 9:32
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There are at least three separate signs:

One is a "last exit before toll", shown twice.

Then the exact toll is shown.

If you are entering from the Golden Gate NRA area, there is a toll sign at the intersection.

All of the SF Bay Area bridges are tolled in one direction.

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You missed it because you already knew it

It is normal to process, but disregard, information you don't need. The last 3 bridges you went under, do you remember the posted clearance height or if it even had one? You're not a high-wide truck driver, so I bet you didn't.

Watch "Bull", Season 1 Ep 7, "Didn't see the sign". The defense deliberately covered up a sign near the jury box between sessions and asked the jury to recall the sign. None could. The sign's message was irrelevant to juries, so they simply didn't store it. It works like that for you too, unless you have an eidetic memory.

As you mentioned in a comment of another answer, you already knew the Golden Gate bridge was toll. That meant all 5 toll warning signs were superfluous to you.

You would not, and should not, have stored that information. (this being the crux of the "Bull" episode). That is a complex and busy road even by day, it was unfamiliar and you were driving it at night. The high mental demand required to process all of it is (in aviation) called "pilot workload". That would've been quite high, to say nothing of passenger etc. workloads. In times like that, parts of your mind set aside things you do not need to know.


And I bet you either a) had a rough sense of what the toll would be, certainly if you crossed any other Bay Area bridge, whose tolls are only $1 less. Or b) realized that geographically, an "avoid tolls" route was totally impractical, so you were fully committed. Either of these factors makes the toll amount superfluous information given that workload.

  • "As you mentioned in a comment of another answer, you already knew the Golden Gate bridge was toll." -> What comment? – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 23 '18 at 19:21
  • On the contrary, I was on the watch for a sign of toll, because I was ok to take a bridge more on the east since I was heading to San Jose. – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 23 '18 at 19:22
  • "had a rough sense of what the toll would be, certainly if you crossed any other Bay Area bridge" -> I had never crossed a toll bridge in CA with my car. The last time I went to the Golden Gate bridge was slightly over 10 years ago, and wasn't driving. – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 23 '18 at 19:25
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    "I never said I was surprised by a toll". That means you were not surprised by the toll, and that you knew it was a toll crossing. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 23 '18 at 19:43
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    It is news that you actually wanted to go from Marin to San Jose. The 580-880 route would have been free in that direction, all-freeway and at night, far less traffic complications. I'm sorry you missed that route, but if you understand the aviation concept of a failure tree, there were several factors other than missing toll signs. I would be focusing on those other factors, as those will help you going forward. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 23 '18 at 20:05

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