Q Now that we are going to need FasTrak more, especially to cross the Golden Gate Bridge when the toll takers are gone Wednesday, how about a FasTrak column for dummies?

Mimi M.

Palo Alto

A Sounds good to me. Having a FasTrak transponder or a credit card account will be the easiest ways to pay tolls starting Wednesday. If you have neither, you will get a bill based on your license plate number. And with FasTrak, you'll get a $1 discount on the $6 fee.

 

Q Where and how do I get a transponder?

Mimi M.

A You can pick up a transponder, also known as a toll tag, at most Costco, Safeway or Walgreens locations or at the customer service center on at 475 The Embarcadero at Broadway in San Francisco. Order online at 511.org or bayareafastrak.org or call customer service by phoning 511 and saying "FasTrak" at the first prompt.

Q How much does it cost?

Mimi M.

A There's no charge for the tag itself. You prepay for a few tolls and that is usually about $25, of which $5 is available for toll payment immediately and $20 is a deposit that is added to the prepaid account once you register the tag.

Q Does it expire or last forever? I only use the bridges a couple times a year.

Mimi M.

A The battery may fade after five years or so, in which case you call customer service and exchange the tag for a new one.

However, when a FasTrak account has not been used for 12 consecutive months or longer, you will be notified and can either close the account or keep it open. If you do nothing, the inactive account is closed automatically and the deposit forfeited.

Q What else do I need to know?

Mimi H.

A Go to 511.org or bayareafastrak.org for more information.

Q If I have a FasTrak account, what happens if I go through a FasTrak lane without the transponder in my car? Based on your past columns, I was about to do this the other day, but I figured I would double-check first. So I asked a toll collector at the San Mateo Bridge. He said that would be a violation and I would get a ticket, no question.

He said the only time I can go through the FasTrak lane is if I have the transponder in my car. Can you verify this?

Amir Raubvogel

Redwood City

A He's wrong. If you have a FasTrak account but no transponder, cameras will read your license plate and your account will be billed the toll. No penalties will be assessed. This is true on other bridges in the Bay Area as well.

However, there is one exception on the Golden Gate. You must have a FasTrak transponder to use the carpool lane (lane No. 2) as well as three people in your car during carpool hours.

Q As an out-of-state visitor, I cross the Golden Gate Bridge about twice a year in a motor home towing a car. The motor home has a license plate from one state, and the towed car has a license plate from another state. Which one (or perhaps both) would they record and bill? Wouldn't different plates also be common with various vehicle and trailer combinations?

Bob Stephens

Sun Lake, Ariz.

A Yes, they are. The front license plate is generally used for assessing a toll. Your best option is to open a license-plate account online using a credit card.

You can enter up to five license plates and add the plate of both the vehicle and a trailer. This will ensure your toll is paid and avoid a wrong toll being charged.

Also, the license plate account option allows you to set up a closing date, which can be set for the day after crossing the bridge if you are just passing through. This type of account may also be opened over the phone, toll-free at 877-229-8655.

Q Gary, here's a too easy solution to the bridge toll. When renting a car, a friend visiting the area was told by a rental car employee that if they would be crossing bridges, to obscure each license plate with some mud. He did so, crossed multiple bridges and had no problems. There's got to be other cases. Is this fix too obvious?

Walt Gil

A Here's what the California Vehicle Code thinks about this idea: "A person shall not ... alter a license plate to avoid visual or electronic capture of the license plate or its characters by state or local law enforcement."

Follow Gary Richards at twitter.com/mrroadshow, look for him at facebook.com/mr.roadshow or contact him at mrroadshow@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5335.