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BART Commuters Weigh Their Options as Strike Looms

9:58 PM PDT on August 13, 2009

IMG_4544_1.jpgBART riders began grappling with planning alternatives to their daily commutes today. Photo: Michael Rhodes

BART riders braced themselves today as word got out that train service will shut down Monday due to a strike. At Montgomery Station in San Francisco, riders expressed mixed feelings about the politics of the strike, but they were unanimous on one thing: the commute is going to be a pain.

That was regular BART commuter Saehish's reaction when asked about the strike. He said the strike would force him to drive into work from Fremont. If many riders switch to driving during the strike, the streets and bridges could get ugly.

Fortunately, most BART riders we spoke to said they were planning to take the bus or work from home.

Christine Leland of Hayward said she'll have to do the former. "I would have to take the bus, because I don't have a car," said Leland. Her employer isn't flexible about hours, so she'll have to get up early to make it to work on time.

Leland said she's "pretty pissed off" the strike is happening. "I really don't see how they could possibly do this in this economy, either, how any of them can afford it. But that's on them," said Leland. "I don't understand what their problem is. I mean, from what I've heard, as far as what they're being offered, it's no worse than what the rest of us get as far as benefits and pay goes, so I don't know what the beef is. I don't get it."

Paul, from Balboa Park, said he'll be alright switching to Muni, but "some coworkers are upset who live farther." He wasn't sure what to think of the negotiations, but wondered if the timing of a strike was right. "Now, so many people have no job," he said. "People are willing to work for a lower salary."

Kasha, who lives in the East Bay, said she understands the reasons for the strike, and is fortunate enough to have a good backup plan. "I'm really supportive of unions and of workers, making sure that they get the best wages and rights that they need," she said. "We talked about it at work, the last time the strike was considered, we might just all work from home, those of us who come from the East Bay."

Another East Bay commuter, Kimberly, said she also would be working from home. At her company, "anybody that lives on the other side of the bridge will be working from home," she said. As for the labor negotiations: "I'm wondering all the time why the costs seem to go up so often, and why there isn't better planning. So I'm not sure whose fault that lies on, but my first thought is that it's management."

Other commuters took a practical view of the strike. "I'm not real happy about it," said Mark Johnson, who lives in South San Francisco. "It's just a negotiation. Nobody's happy with what they've got, and I understand."

Johnson said he'd be taking Caltrain instead on Monday. His employer is flexible about hours, so he may be able to avoid the peak rush.

Michael, from Pleasant Hill, was frustrated with both sides in the negotiation. "There's room to give on both sides," he said. "Both parties, they're just being stubborn." He works in retail, so his hours aren't flexible, and he will have to get up earlier in the morning and ride a packed AC Transit bus.

Several riders were still uncertain about their commute plans for Monday.

"I guess I'm going to drive to San Francisco and take Muni," said Gladys Leung, who normally takes BART from Millrae. Even far from downtown, parking in San Francisco can be difficult, so she's not certain if she'll be able to find a spot. Her employer is flexible about hours, but getting to work early won't be an option. "I cannot because I need to drop off my son to school."

"It's sad, it's actually very frustrating," said Leung, especially since "they just raised the fares."

Jose Lorenze of El Sobronte wasn't aware of the strike, but going home, he said, he "might maybe take the bus, or casual carpool back." He might also have the option of working from home. "I work at home every Friday. But I'm pretty sure that they'll be flexible if there is going to be a BART strike."

The good news is that only one person out of 14 interviewed reported they plan to drive to work on Monday. Even at that rate, of course, a BART strike will lead to massive congestion. No one reported plans to bicycle or walk to work, but it remains to be seen whether commuters might reconsider after a few days of clogged roads and packed buses.

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