Bay Area commuters brace for another BART strike

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By MIHIR ZAVERI and TERENCE CHEA, Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Agencies are planning ways to get San Francisco Bay area commuters to work Monday if there's a transit strike, but officials say no matter what steps are taken there's no way to make up for the idling of one of the nation's largest transit systems

More ferries and buses will be put into operation to get people across San Francisco Bay. Carpool lanes will be open all day Monday, not just for rush hour. And gift cards for coffee will be handed out to drivers who pick up riders.

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."

Meanwhile, Bay Area Rapid Transit and its union were holding weekend-long labor talks in hopes of reaching an agreement by a midnight Sunday.

The two sides were scheduled to return to the negotiating table at 10 a.m. Saturday after recessing for the night Friday.

Key sticking points in the labor talks focused 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. The unions agreed to call off that strike and extend their contracts until Sunday while negotiations continued.

"I didn't really fully appreciate the magnitude of disruption of my commute," said Oakland resident Benny Martin.

Martin, 32, said the short trip to his law firm in downtown San Francisco took him two hours each way. If BART workers strike next week, he just won't go into the office. "It's just not worth it for me."

A strike next week could cause more traffic mayhem than last month's work stoppage, which came around the Fourth of July holiday.

"Without having a holiday in the middle of the week, there's a potential for much greater congestion on the roadways," Goodwin said.

At a news conference Friday, Bay Area and state officials called on BART managers and union leaders to reach an agreement, saying a strike would create financial hardship for working families and hurt the Bay Area economy.

"We need an agreement and not a strike in our BART Service," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said. "They need to know that it is no longer a matter of inconvenience to the ridership. It is hardship."

On Thursday, two transit unions— which represent nearly 2,400 train operators, station agents, mechanics, maintenance workers and professional staff — issued a 72-hour strike notice. They plan to participate in labor talks up until the contract expires at midnight Sunday in hopes of averting a strike.

At a meeting of BART's board Friday, union leaders urged the directors to give workers what they called a fair contract.

"I'm here to say we will not be busted," John Arantes, president of SEIU local 1021. "We are more united now than ever before."

BART General Manager Grace Crunican said the two sides were working hard at the bargaining table, but they remain far apart on wages, pensions and health care. There's still time to reach a deal before the strike deadline, she said.

"Three days is a long time when you've come as far as we have," Crunican told reporters.

Under state law, Gov. Jerry Brown has the authority to seek a court-ordered 60-day "cooling off period" that would temporarily block BART workers from striking.

"The governor is considering all his options and closely monitoring the situation," said spokesman Evan Westrup.

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Associated Press writers Martha Mendoza, Jason Dearen and Sudhin Thanawala contributed to this report.

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