Transit Strike Sends Commuters Scrambling In San Francisco
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For two days now, about 400,000 commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area have had to find an alternate way to get around. Workers for the area's rail system are on strike. The dispute at Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, is over pay, benefit and safety issues. Employees walked off the job early Monday morning as their contract expired. For now, NPR's Richard Gonzales reports that most travelers are taking the disruption in stride.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: The corner of Fremont and Howard is a popular dropping off point for an untold number of casual carpoolers. Even without a transit strike, it's a long-standing local custom for drivers in the East Bay to pick up perfect strangers and transport them west into San Francisco often free of charge. So when BART isn't available, these carpool lines get longer.
ALON CHAVER: It was really not bad at all. I was kind of amazed at how actually - how unpainful it was, yeah.
GONZALES: Where'd you come in from?
GONZALES: Alon Chaver works for an online real estate firm. He uses the casual carpool every day. It takes about 20 minutes, and today was no different.
So it's business as usual?
CHAVER: In a way, yeah. I just have to figure out how to get back.
GONZALES: Of course, not everyone had it so easy. Sharon Gillars is a finance manager for a local tech startup. Her commute time doubled.
SHARON GILLARS: Usually, it takes me 25 to 30 minutes.
GONZALES: And today?
GILLARS: Probably 50. Still not too bad, though.
GONZALES: Got an opinion about the strike?
GILLARS: I sure hope they settle it soon. Yeah, yeah.
GONZALES: But there are no indications that either side is in a hurry to end this dispute. The reported numbers in the last round of negotiations appear to be in flux. The union is holding out for a better than 20 percent pay raise over four years. BART management is offering 8 percent over four years, but that's apparently conditioned on a rise in ridership and revenues.
Back at Fremont and Howard, software developer Jason Randall made it to work in 40 minutes. That's slower than usual. Randall says he gets the sense that commuters haven't yet reached the boiling point.
JASON RANDALL: I think it's up and down. I think for the most part people are just dealing with it, and the other people, you can tell there's a little extra tension.
GONZALES: And Randall admits he's starting to count himself in that category.
RANDALL: I'm frustrated. You know, I think that everybody is getting squeezed these days. And it's been going on for so many years that it's hard to fault the workers. But at the same time, it's making things tough on everybody.
GONZALES: The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its sympathies with labor. And a number of people we talked with said they leaned towards the side of the 2,400 BART workers on the picket line. But that's hardly a universal view. Just ask technology consultant Brad Martin, no fan of the unions.
BRAD MARTIN: Yeah. I think they're probably asking too much. It's time to push back. Yeah. I don't like the fact that we're hostage to mostly quasi or public employees' unions and things like that. So, yeah, pretty strong opinions.
GONZALES: If anything positive comes from this commuter train strike, maybe some drivers will discover buses rather than turn to their cars, says commuter Jeannie Geselbracht.
JEANNIE GESELBRACHT: I would like to see the bus more full, more people taking the bus instead of driving.
GONZALES: It seems a few people are pretty mellow about this.
GESELBRACHT: Mm-hmm. Because it's only the second day.
GONZALES: It's been 16 years since the last time BART workers went out on strike, and that one lasted six days. At this hour, there are no talks scheduled to end this one and no relief for commuters. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
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