(Danielle Vernon - San Francisco, KQED) Dawnette Reed started working at the Golden Gate Bridge gift shop one summer when she was 17. Now, at 43, she's a toll collector, and loves it. She’s even got her favorite lanes, Number 1 and 2.
But by the morning commute on Wednesday, March 27, Reed and the other eight full-time toll-takers and 29 part-time workers will be out of a job when the bridge goes to all-electronic tolling. The Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District estimates the change will save $16 million during the first eight years. And, they expect traffic to move much faster.
But for Reed, the change is like losing a loved one.
"We've grown to become a family at the bridge. And we loved coming to work. We won't actually believe it until we see it, " Reed says. "There's so many reasons customers still need us there for."
Drivers ask toll collectors for help during health emergencies, like heart attacks or diabetic shock. Toll plaza personnel routinely report accidents and drunk drivers, and they give directions to the many out-of-towners who get lost.
Golden Gate spokeswoman Mary Currie says the bridge district will run patrols to help motorists. And, she says, in an emergency, drivers can always call 911.
"It's not going to be a duty that is theirs and that is going to be missing," Currie says. "We do that on a regular basis."
Most toll collectors already have other jobs lined up within the bridge district, and a handful have retired. But quitting work isn’t an option for Reed, and she’s not interested in taking another district job. "I have the years, but I don't have the age, so I can't retire yet," Reed says. "The bridge has offered us positions, mostly they're pushing us to be bus drivers for Golden Gate Bridge. That's not what I want to do. A lot of people say, just go do it, just go do it. Well, every job is not for everyone."
Not everyone is sad to see the toll drivers go though. Brian Kelly, from Napa, says it's just progress.
"I don’t think that’s a reason to stay away from technology, and I think it saves assets," Kelly said.
Since electronic tolling with FasTrak was added to the Golden Gate Bridge in July 2000, wait times during the morning commute dropped from as long as 20 minutes to under a minute, according to the district.
Starting on March 27, motorists will have three ways to pay for the bridge: FasTrack, a license plate account, or through a one-time payment system. Drivers can open a License Plate Account that charges a registered credit card every time the car crosses the bridge. Otherwise motorists can make a one-time payment up to 30 days before or up to 48 hours after crossing the bridge online, by phone or eventually at "cash payment locations."
Listen to the audio version of this story here.