Human touch becomes history as Golden Gate moves to all-electronic tolls

Wed Mar 27, 2013 5:04am EDT
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By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - In her job as a toll collector on the Golden Gate Bridge, Jacquie Dean has watched a cavalcade of humanity roll past her booth, from naked partiers to a generous soul who handed her a lobster dinner one holiday.

All that came to an end just after midnight on Wednesday when an all-electronic payment system replaced Dean and her co-workers.

Dean had planned to stay at her job until her retirement in 13 years. Instead she saw the end of an era in the Bay area, as the Golden Gate lost the human touch in a change officials say is expected to ease congestion and save a projected $2 million a year in labor costs.

Dean spent the past 19 years collecting Golden Gate Bridge tolls and says she feels sad about leaving the job, just like 27 other toll collectors made redundant since January 2011, when the bridge district board of directors decided to move to all-electronic payments.

"Our customers love us," Dean said. "We love them. You have customers who remember your birthday. It's a relationship that's reciprocated through the years."

It was also a relationship that developed every day in increments of six seconds. That is the amount of time the toll workers were supposed to spend with each customer. Some transactions took longer, and some were shorter.

Dean has waved through everything from a Pinto to a Lexus carrying expectant mothers clutching bulging bellies, feet on the dashboard, breath labored.

"I'll put the $6 in for you," she has told the worried fathers-to-be. "Go have a baby."   Continued...

Two bridge workers cover a display at the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza in preparation of the tolling system conversion in San Francisco, California March 27, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam