Plans to finally remove the Sydney Harbour Bridge toll booths made me unexpectedly nostalgic as I visited my former home over the weekend.
While I now happily call Canberra home and have no intentions of returning, I was born in Sydney and lived there for the first 33 years of my life, so it will always be my original home.
The toll booths are a Sydney icon, and I have many fond memories of them. Don't get me wrong, I had many horrible experiences with these toll booths, too. The mad and desperate scramble to get together $3 in coins, only to have one of them fail to register as you plonked them into the coin basket at each booth.
I can remember friends and family having a bag of coins in the car at all times and will never forget the shouts and panicked orders to "get the coins out, quick". If you were in the passenger seat, it was your job to count out the coins and have them ready. A seasoned passenger would know to have a few extra 20 cent coins ready in case the basket predictably miscounted or failed to register some.
There was nothing quite like stress and embarrassment you felt if you were the cause of a hold-up, looking back to see multiple cars lined up behind you, honking their horns as though that would help in any way. It all evened out, though, because you could bet if you found yourself stuck behind some poor driver struggling with the payment, you were cursing and beeping your horn, too.
So, we went from a toll booth operator to an automatic coin counting system to the now standard e-TAG. Yes, it has sped things up a lot, but it has also meant a loss of human contact and, like many advances in technology, left people unable to wait a short amount of time for anything. Things must work immediately and without fault or the day is ruined. There is no need to plan ahead or problem solve on the spot. With e-TAGs, even if you haven't organised one for your car, you can still sail through toll checkpoints and simply call or log on to pay at a later, more convenient, time.
While I am not old by any standards, I do feel very lucky to have experienced these "old-school" methods. I can also say I am also very grateful I don't have to risk causing major traffic chaos searching under passenger car seats for a final silver coin to allow me to pass through the barrier. The struggle was real but I can't help but miss it just a little.
- Christy Kidner is an editorial assistant at The Canberra Times.