By MIHIR ZAVERI and TERENCE CHEA, Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — More ferries and buses will be deployed to get commuters across San Francisco Bay. Carpool lanes will be open all day, not just for rush hour. And gift cards for coffee will be handed out to drivers who pick up riders.
No matter what Bay Area transit agencies do, however, to lessen the impact of a looming strike Monday by Bay Area Rapid Transit workers, officials say there's no way to make up for the idling of one of the nation's largest transit systems.
BART carries more than 400,000 commuters a day, keeping them off the roads in a region routinely choked with traffic.
"The inescapable fact is BART's capacity can't be absorbed by the other transit agencies," said John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "We're still hoping for the best, but it's time to prepare for the worst."
As the union and the transit agency continue negotiations, with key sticking points focusing on worker safety, pensions and health care costs, commuters are bracing for what could be the second BART strike in a month.
When transit workers shut down train service for four days in early July, roadways were jammed and commuters faced long lines for buses and ferries. But the impact wasn't as severe as it could have been because it came around the Fourth of July holiday. The unions agreed to call off the strike and extend their contracts until Aug. 4 while negotiations continued.
"Without having a holiday in the middle of the week, there's a potential for much greater congest on the roadways," Goodwin said.
On Thursday, two transit unions issued a 72-hour strike notice. The nation's fifth-largest rail system, BART carries passengers from the Bay Area's eastern suburbs across the water, through the city and to San Francisco International Airport.
The unions — which represent nearly 2,400 train operators, station agents, mechanics, maintenance workers and professional staff — said they plan to participate in labor talks up until the contract expires at midnight Sunday in hopes of averting a strike.
"This is not something that we want to do. This is not something that we intend to do," said Antonette Bryant, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, one of two unions in talks with BART.
BART spokesman Rick Rice said in a prepared statement the agency was disappointed by the strike notice.
"A strike only stalls and delays the decisions that need to be made while using our riders as pawns," he said. "BART is willing to stay at the table for as long as it takes to reach an agreement. Even if there isn't a deal in place by Sunday night, talks can be extended."
Bay Area transit agencies and employers are making preparations for a possible strike.
— BART, which cannot hire any replacement workers, will hire about 95 charter buses to transport commuters from its train stations.
— The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District plans to add an unspecified number of trans-bay buses.
— The San Francisco Bay Ferry will increase the number of city-bound ferries in Oakland, Alameda and Vallejo.
— The California Highway Patrol will keep carpool lanes open from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. rather than closing them during the day.
— The MTC will hand out $5 Peet's gift cards to drivers who pick up riders heading back to the East Bay.
The transit agency has said employees with its two largest labor unions average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. The workers pay nothing toward their pensions. BART says it needs to save money on benefits to help pay for system improvements.
Unions submitted their last financial proposal last month and were awaiting a counteroffer from BART, said Josie Mooney, chief negotiator for the local Service Employees International Union, the other union in talks with BART.
Mooney said they offered to contribute to the pension, but she could not say how much because of a gag order issued by a mediator.
Associated Press writers Jason Dearen and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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