Human toll-takers at the Golden Gate Bridge will vanish into the fog of history March 27 when officials throw the switch on a new system that requires all drivers to pay what they owe electronically.
"It's definitely a bittersweet time," said Mary Currie, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District.
She said layoff notices were mailed Monday to nine remaining full-time toll-takers. Another 19 are transferring to other jobs with the Golden Gate Bridge or are planning to retire, Currie said.
The last toll-taker will depart the bridge's iconic plaza sometime in the early hours of March 27, a Wednesday.
By the start of the morning commute around 5 a.m., the booths will be empty and shrouded in wrapping. Overhead, a new 27-foot L.E.D. sign will instruct motorists to keep moving.
The Golden Gate Bridge will officially become the only span in California and one of the few in the world to convert to all-electronic tolls.
The system was approved for the Golden Gate in 2011 to ease congestion and close a projected $66 million, five-year shortfall in the bridge district's budget.
The system is costing $3.4 million to implement, including $520,000 to publicize the changes. It is projected to save the district $16.8 million over an eight-year period. The savings includes the loss of 28 full-time toll-takers.
Bridge officials have been testing the new system for weeks. When it goes live, motorists will be able to use all 11 toll lanes without stopping, regardless of whether they have cash on hand.
The majority of people who cross the Golden Gate pay their tolls using the FasTrak system and won't notice much of a change. For everyone else, roughly 30 percent of bridge users, it's going to take some getting used to.
One payment option is to go online and register your license plate and credit card information with the bridge district and pay tolls as they are incurred.
This differs from FasTrak, which keeps a minimum balance in prepaid accounts.
Information about pay-by-plate accounts can be found at www.goldengate.org/tolls. Cash and credit card accounts also can be created over the phone or in person with the bridge district.
Drivers who don't have FasTrak or a pay-by-plate account have about 48 hours after they cross the bridge to pay the toll before an invoice is sent.
About 150 payment kiosks are being rolled out initially at the bridge, at gas stations and at other locations along thoroughfares leading to and from the Golden Gate, including at two locations in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.
Tourists or anyone else who knows they will be making a trip across the bridge in advance have the option of making toll payments up to 30 days prior to their visit, or of using the other payment methods offered to more frequent bridge travelers.
Motorists who fail to pay a toll for whatever reason can expect to receive an invoice in the mail for the amount of the toll, as opposed to the current policy that levels an additional fine.
Motorists have 21 days to pay the toll without penalty. A $25 fine is tacked on if it is not paid 30 days after that. The matter is then referred to the DMV, which can place a hold on the vehicle's registration until the fine is taken care of.