SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — As commuters scrambled to make it to and from work Monday without Bay Area Rapid Transit for the first time in 16 years, economists estimated the first day of the BART strike cost the region $73 million in lost worker productivity alone.
The Bay Area Council Economic Institute said that figure, which did not include the cost of overall lost economic activity, would steadily increase each day the region “reels from the loss of its most critical mass transit system.” The strike looked likely to continue into a second day with no progress reported.
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BART is the nation’s fifth-largest rail system with 44 stations in four counties and 104 miles of lines; it handles more than 40 percent of Bay Area commuters in what transportation officials noted is the second-most congested region in the nation.
“The Bay Area economy is suffering, along with hundreds of thousands of commuters,” Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, told CBS San Francisco via e-mail. “There is an additional hit to economic activity that we know is happening but which we can’t easily quantify, but which could add tens of millions of dollars to the total.”
As the workday drew to a close Monday, evening commuters lined up early for ferries, buses and casual carpools as traffic on area freeways quickly backed up.
Officials said the East Bay’s Alameda County Transit buses carried an unusually high volume of passengers, while the San Francisco Bay Ferry said it saw three times its normal ridership.
Caltrans estimated the biggest commuting delay added 25 minutes to the stretch of Highway 80 between the Carquinez Bridge and the Bay Bridge, while the heaviest traffic was to the south along a stretch of Highway 880, which was twice as heavy as a week ago.
“It’s been an absolute nightmare for some commuters, but we didn’t see total gridlock,” Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization focused on public transportation and walkable communities, told the Associated Press.
“It’s summertime and a holiday week, so plenty of people didn’t go to work,” added California Highway Patrol Sgt. Diana McDermott. “Others had prepared for it, or they were able to work from home, and we saw lots of informal carpooling.”
BART workers began their strike shortly after midnight after contract negotiations broke down between BART management and its two largest unions, the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555.
As of Monday evening, there were no plans to resume negotiations – but there was a small hint of optimism as the two sides had apparently talked by phone.
“Let’s see how things go. Conversations are happening obviously with something as big and critical and as important as this. All the higher ups in our union and BART, you know, there’s people on the phone with each other, no doubt,” SEIU Local 1021 spokesman Pete Castelli told KCBS.
BART management said it had conveyed to state mediators the hope that formal talks could be scheduled “very soon.”
The key issues in the contract negotiations, which began on April 1 but broke off Sunday night, are pensions, health benefits, salaries and safety.
The unions – which represent nearly 2,400 train operators, station agents, mechanics, maintenance workers and professional staff – want a 5 percent raise annually over the next three years. BART has offered a 1 percent annual raise over four years and also wants to raise the cost of health care premiums and have workers pay into pensions – a proposal the unions rejected.
“They were wanting us to make a quote – substantial change – to the offer we had just offered. We had doubled our wage increase. We want to see a little something back from them before we move a little bit more,” BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost told KCBS. “But the good news is we’re not at an impasse.”
The last time BART employees went on strike was in September 1997. That walkout lasted six days before a settlement was finally reached; commuters were hoping this one doesn’t last as long or longer.
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Theresa Tramble, 23, and Antanisha Thompson, 24, who usually ride BART trains together from Oakland to San Francisco, were upset after their long, hard commute Monday. They usually enjoy a $5.85 round-trip on a line deep beneath the bay on the quiet, cushioned seats of BART trains. Instead, they rode a bus — a noisy, jerking ride that cost $4.20 one way, almost doubling the price of their commute.
How was the ride? “Super crowded, super hot,” groaned Thompson, who works at a drug store in San Francisco.
Berkeley resident Larez Davenport, who said she waited for two hours at a bus stop on San Francisco’s Howard Street to finally catch a crowded bus ride home, said she didn’t feel much sympathy for the BART workers.
“I understand both sides, but on the other hand, there’s 400,000 people out here struggling to get home,” Davenport said. “The economy is so messed up, I’d think people would be happy just to have a job.”
Chris Duncan, an architect who works in San Francisco, waited in a casual carpool line along Beale Street waiting for a ride toward the Ashby BART station. He summed up the feelings Monday evening of many stranded commuters, calling the strike “a failure of both sides to come to an agreement… it didn’t need to be this way.”
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