Two toll collectors were teary-eyed as they wrapped up their final shifts at the Golden Gate Bridge this afternoon less than a day before the bridge converts to all-electronic tolling.
For the last time, Jacquie Dean and Dawnette Reed, both 43, stepped out of their booths where they have been collecting tolls and plenty of memories for the past 18 years and 16 years, respectively.
Dean, who started the post at 24, said she is going to miss the customers most when the bridge makes the switch to computers, cameras and other gadgets just after midnight Wednesday morning.
She said loyal customers today brought flowers, gift cards, thank you notes and other tokens of appreciation along with their $6 tolls.
As the bridge will no longer take cash payments, the toll takers jobs have become obsolete.
Nearly half of the 28 fulltime toll collectors who work in the plaza are being transitioned to other positions in the district, while the others, such as Dean and Reed, have taken severance packages, bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie said.
“It’s like getting kicked out of your home,” Dean said.
Reed said she is sad and angry about losing her longtime job, and is dubious about the future of electronic tolling.
“I don’t think it’s going to work,” she said, explaining how she serves as guide for confused tourists and a friendly face for many daily commuters.
Dean, who crosses the bridge to the toll plaza from her Vallejo home, reminisced about the many years spent in rotation at the four southbound booths.
“Our DNA is embedded in this bridge,” she said.
She broke down in tears talking about her last day on the job, but was soon laughing, remembering the people she has encountered.
The self-described die-hard Raiders fan chuckled about heckling 49ers fans, and determined Halloween is the best time to be on the bridge.
She described the ridiculous costumes or lack of costumes she’s seen on Halloween over the years, and the many nude motorists who may pass through on any other day.
Dean said aside from the familiar faces, she’ll miss the dogs she’s gotten to know and the many babies she’s seen cross the span.
“I’ve kissed babies from all over the world,” she said.
Standing at the gateway into San Francisco, she’s encountered tourists speaking unrecognizable languages, but has learned some universal symbols for common destinations such as the crooked Lombard Street or San Francisco Zoo.
Motorists are now welcomed into the city with a 27-foot LED sign, installed atop the toll plaza Monday, that reads, “Do Not Stop, Automatic Tolling.”
Dean said she’s worried about motorists traversing the bridge without the toll takers on the other end keeping order.
“We’ve gotta keep an eye on all 365 (degrees),” she said. She said she often recognizes and reports drunken drivers or other illegal or dangerous situations.
The Golden Gate Bridge’s board of directors last week approved raising the speed limit through the toll plaza from 15 to 25 mph to improve traffic flow across the bridge.
To also ease confusion, the tollbooth windows will be painted black in the next few days, Currie said.
People can still use the existing FasTrak system and pay a toll of $5 — one dollar less than the $6 tolls paid using other methods. Currie said last month that about 70 percent of southbound motorists on the bridge already use FasTrak.
Three other options involve paying by a license plate number.
Drivers can set up an automatic billing account associated with their license plate numbers; make a one-time payment before crossing the bridge or within 48 hours afterward; or pay an invoice that is mailed to the car’s registered owner after the crossing with the help of cameras that capture passing cars’ license plate numbers.
Payments can be made online, by phone or in person at participating locations are listed online on the bridge district’s website.
All-electronic tolling is expected to save the bridge district $16.8 million over eight years, district officials said.
More information about the electronic conversion, as well as directions for how to set up an account, can be found on the bridge’s website at www.goldengate.org/tolls.
Sasha Lekach/Dan McMenamin, Bay City News