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Last human toll takers on Golden Gate Bridge replaced by machines

As the end of her afternoon shift collecting tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge ended, Dawnette Reed felt the tears begin to come.

She stepped out of her booth at lane three and made the walk back to the office for the last time. After 18 years collecting tolls at the bridge, her job was done.

"I always say I know customers from the [baby’s] car seat to the driver's seat," Reed said of her regular customers.

With the bridge switching to fully electronic toll collecting early Wednesday morning, the humans no longer had a place on the bridge for the first time in its more than 75 year history.

The Bridge District offered the toll takers other jobs, but Reed wasn't interested in any of them. Driving a bus? Not for her.

"I'm going to miss the customers," Reed said.

The drivers knew it was the toll takers last day. Some gave Reed flowers, cards - someone she'd never met gave her a bag of cookies.

She'd gotten to know her customers, even in the brief time it took hand over the $6 fare. They'd invited her to birthday parties and weddings.

Sometimes she saw strange things collecting tolls.

"We've had naked people come through with painted on bikinis," she laughed. "Sometimes we get naked people without paint on them."

Toll collector Jacquie Dean had 18 years on the job herself. She was angry she was being replaced by electronic gizmos and cameras that would soon photograph license plates and send drivers a bill for the toll.

Those things couldn't give directions to lost drivers, or watch out for trouble on the bridge.

"We're not obsolete, they chose to do this to us," Dean said. "They chose to have us here. They could've kept a couple lanes open."

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The Bridge District said it would save $16 million over the next few years by replacing the toll workers.

It was only a matter of time before humans weren't needed.

"For the economic health of our organization I think it makes sense," said Kary Witt, manager of the Golden Gate Bridge. "Obviously the savings of doing this automatically, electronically as opposed to employing people, it's not avoidable."

Still, as some of the workers finished their last shifts on Tuesday and walked toward the office, some were in tears as they clutched bouquets.

Witt seemed to be choking back his own tears.

"We do lose a bit of the human touch," Witt said. "I think that's one of the things, you know, is a bit ironic."

Dean said the severance package offered to employees was disappointing. She wasn't sure what she would do next. But knew there would be another job somewhere.

She said she'd miss her co-workers the most.

"We've all gone through it together," she said, choking back sobs. "And I can say through all those tragedies in my life, this has been my normal, this is what kept me grounded."