The end of cash tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge hit hard for toll-takers Thursday when they received pink slips telling them their services will no longer be needed later this month.

By the morning commute on March 27, a Wednesday, all-electronic tolling will be in place, Golden Gate Bridge district officials announced. Nine full-time toll-takers will be out of jobs, along with 29 temporary, part-time hires.

"I grew up here," said toll-taker Jacquie Dean, 43, as she stood near the toll booths she has worked at for almost 19 years. "For this to happen to myself and my co-workers is a great disappointment. I have had customers in the last couple of weeks break down and cry in the lanes, they really didn't think this was going to happen. It's the end of an era."

The toll-takers have been part of bridge operations since it opened in 1937, but financial pressures and technology have conspired to eliminate the positions.

Eliminating toll-takers will save roughly $16 million over eight years in salaries and benefits. A toll-taker's base annual salary starts at $48,672 and tops out at $54,080. It is costing the bridge district $3.2 million to get the all-electronic system up and running.

The move, among other steps, will help bail the district out of a $66 million budget shortfall over the next five years.

"We will be going live with all-electronic tolling at the Golden Gate Bridge; it is a big milestone for us," said Mary Currie, bridge district spokeswoman.

Before that occurs other steps will take place. The speed limit at the toll plaza will be raised from 5 mph to 25 mph and the toll booths will be wrapped in material to cover windows so drivers will be less inclined to stop. Lane No. 2 at the Toll Plaza will be converted to a $3 toll carpool lane. Carpool hours are from 5 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Three people in a vehicle qualify as a carpool.

For now, the toll booth structures will remain in place, in large part because they house the equipment, including cameras, that will allow the bridge to convert to all-electronic tolls.

Bridge officials are working to get the word out to customers about the change and have started a campaign, "Drive on Through to the Other Side," designed to keep people moving through the Toll Plaza.

The district has established a website -- www.goldengate.org/tolls -- to provide information to drivers.

Thirty percent of drivers who cross the span now pay a $6 cash toll to cross and officials want to get them to switch to automated FasTrak or "pay by plate" accounts linking their credit cards to a toll accounting system. Those who want to pre-pay a toll with cash can pay at "Touch-N-Buy" kiosks around Marin, often found in convenience stores. If drivers do nothing, a bill for the toll will be mailed to the address of the registered owner of the vehicle.

But toll-takers, the face of the bridge for more than 75 years, will not be an option come March 28.

"It's been a beautiful thing working here," said toll-taker Dean, who is searching for a new job. "You see the sun set and the sun rise. It never gets old. For it to end this way is emotional for all of us. We are the ambassadors of the bridge."

Contact Mark Prado via email at mprado@marinij.com ___

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