Last week, the Golden Gate Bridge switched to its new all-electronic tolling system. The change has been smooth, with just a few reports of confused drivers stopping at the toll plaza. For most people, it won’t be a big deal, because over three-quarters of commuters use the electronic payment system Fastrak.
Mary Currie, the spokesperson for the Golden Gate Bridge Transit District, estimates the switch to all-electronic tolling will save the district – which is facing a big deficit– $16 million over the next eight years. “Every government agency is faced with having to downsize, and as service providers in the transit world labor is our biggest expense,” said Currie. “So that is directly relates to the all-electronic tolling project. It’s labor.”
In other words, it’s the toll collectors. Officially called “bridge officers,” they’ve been taking drivers’ money since the bridge opened in 1937. On March 26, 2013, all 28 of them clocked in for the last time. All but eight officers had arranged to retire or switch to another job in the district.
Jacquie Dean was one of those eight bridge officers, and she said goodbye to a career that spanned 18 years on the Golden Gate Bridge. As the country moves to all-electronic tolling, Dean represents a group of people who soon won't be there to have stories to tell. From ostriches to babies to "the best sunsets in the world," Jacquie Dean shared some of her favorite memories of the bridge and her feelings as she moves forward.
Like Dean's memories of the driver who always hands out goodies to the toll takers. "Joyce...makes the best brownies in the world....she is just the nicest lady." And the relationships that develop even in the brief period of time it takes to make the toll transaction. "The kids grow up," she says. " You watch them from the first day of kindergarten -- they bring you little pictures that they've drawn -- graduations from fifth and sixth grade...going into high school."
And then there was the day the ostriches got loose. "I don't know if you know ostriches are quite fast and quite strong," she says. "And our toll man had to go out there and try to wrangle ostriches on the Golden Gate Bridge and it did stop traffic for about 30 minutes."
But Dean didn't get to deliver a baby -- that job fell to one of her colleagues. "And actually on (the baby's) birth certificate it says he was born on the Golden Gate Bridge. There are only two people in the world that were actually born on the Golden Gate Bridge."
Listen to the conversation below.