BART on Strike: Live Blog

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by Dan Brekke, Lisa Pickoff-White, Jon Brooks, Lisa Aliferis

Read BART strike day three coverage here.

Update 7:45 p.m. Now that the evening commute is largely winding down, we're going to sign off until 7 a.m. tomorrow.

But we leave you with a quick recap of the issues in this strike, from KQED's Bryan Goebel.

Like many labor/management disagreements, "it boils down to a dispute over a pay raise and contributions to health and pension plans," he says. In this case, the unions want a 23 percent pay raise, and BART initially countered with 4 percent increase, then doubled that to an 8 percent offer over the weekend. BART also says it reduced the amount they had wanted workers to contribute to their pension and health benefits.

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But Goebel also talked to transit advocates including TransForm and Public Advocates. They said part of the problem is bigger than wages and benefits. "They point the finger at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for funding BART extensions, instead of focusing on improving the existing system," Goebel says. "They point to big capital projects like extensions to the Oakland Airport and to Livermore, things they contend BART can't really afford." Advocates say these big projects have soaked up money that could have been used to update systems and service.

The last BART strike in 1997 lasted 6 days.

(Photo: Andrea Short)
(Photo: Andrea Short)

Update 6:15pm: We're now getting reports in from people who have actually arrived home, and it's not pretty out there. In our non-scientific survey of riders waiting for a casual carpool ride, ferry, bus or even combination of the three, it was significantly harder to get home tonight than to get in this morning.

KQED's Isabel Angell lives in Richmond. She came in via casual carpool this morning and her commute took about an hour. But going home, she took Muni to an Oakland ferry and then AC Transit. It was a three-hour trip. "I shudder to think what I would do if AC Transit goes on strike," she says.

Meanwhile, at the casual carpool pickup point at Beale and Howard, Gracia Schepp of Pleasant Hill has been waiting more than 90 minutes for a ride home and no one has stopped. She finally called her husband to come get her. KQED's Chase Thomas says people who live in Richmond and Vallejo seem to have the most ride offers. Oakland, Berkeley and perhaps Pleasant Hill have the fewest.

Andrea Short of Oakland (who was quoted in this blog earlier today saying that traffic on the approach to the Bay Bridge was the worst she'd ever seen) took Muni to the ferry to a free shuttle. She could have waited for an AC Transit bus for the last leg home, but said she was "tired of waiting around for transportation at this point." She is currently walking two miles, uphill, to her apartment building. It's been two hours, 15 minutes and counting.

People wait in a long line for ferry to Oakland. (Isabel Angell/KQED)
People wait in a long line for ferry to Oakland. (Isabel Angell/KQED)

 

Update 4:30pm: KQED's Chase Thomas is at the casual carpool pick-up spot at Beale and Howard in San Francisco. He talked to Eric Gonzalez of Richmond who commutes by casual carpool every day. Generally, Gonzalez says there are just a handful of people in line who need a ride. Today there are more than 50 people, and, "I don't see many drivers," says Gonzalez. The morning commute, he said, generally takes 20 minutes or so. Today, it was closer to two hours.

Kaitlyn Swack is trying to get home to El Sobrante from her job in San Francisco's Financial District. She told Thomas she normally BARTs, and it takes about 30 minutes. Coming in wasn't too bad, she said. But "this is looking like a mess," she said, in reference to the crowd. She's anticipating a long trip home.

More than 50 people wait in line at Beale and Howard in San Francisco for a ride to Richmond. One rider reports there are normally only a handful of people here. (Chase Thomas/KQED)
More than 50 people wait in line at Beale and Howard in San Francisco for a ride to Richmond. One rider reports there are normally only a handful of people here. (Chase Thomas/KQED)

Update 3:45 p.m. KQED's Dan Brekke is making his way home to the East Bay on a ferry. He reports it's "by far the most crowded I have ever seen the Transbay ferries -- every seat taken and scores of passengers, including me, standing."

But he may be one of the lucky ones. Earlier, the line to get on the boat was  doubled back on itself. "Definitely the longest line for the ferry I've ever seen," he said.

Many passengers were anticipating they may be in for a wait of an hour or more.

Brekke also notes the Coast Guard is "out in force" and keeping watch on water traffic in and out at the Ferry Building.

There has been no apparent movement today in terms of labor negotiations. "Unfortunately, we do not have any further information on when negotiations will resume or how long the strike may last," BART said in a statement today.

So one more time .... here's our resource page for BART alternatives.

The line for the Oakland ferry at the Ferry Building has doubled back on itself this afternoon. (Dan Brekke/KQED)
The line for the Oakland ferry at the Ferry Building has doubled back on itself this afternoon. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

 

Update 3 p.m. As we head into the afternoon commute, the post-mortem on this morning's debut time-of-BARTlessness is pretty much in the "bad-but-could've-been worse"  category. From AP:

(M)orning rush hour did not come to a standstill as feared, and some travelers who used carpool lanes and other options added relatively little time to their commutes.

"It's been an absolute nightmare for some commuters, but we didn't see total gridlock," said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization focused on public transportation and walkable communities. "Everybody got so worried about potential congestion they found an alternative,"

Of course, whether you think the term "chaos" should have been applied, as the Merc did in its story today, is sort of like use of the word "depression" as opposed to "recession." It's a depression if you are personally out of a job, a recession if  you're not.

So call it "chaos" if it's taking you like twice as long to get where you're going, and just an awful inconvenience if you're doing better than that.

Update 12:45 p.m. Anyone who thought one morning of chaos might move the parties closer together .... not quite yet.

"The District has informed the mediators that we are hoping they can schedule talks very soon," BART said in a statement this afternoon.

"Unfortunately, we do not have any further information on when negotiations will resume or how long the strike may last."

Update 11 a.m.

As the morning goes on, the ferry lines grow. (Matthew Williams/KQED)
As the morning goes on, the ferry lines grow. (Matthew Williams/KQED)

BART workers went on strike for the first time in 16 years this morning, leaving around 200,000 people looking for another way to get to work or school or the airport or wherever.

Today's strike came after the contract with two of BART's unions expired at midnight without a new deal in place. Union chief negotiator Josie Mooney, of SEIU Local 1021, blames management: "Clearly, BART management never intended to negotiate a contract with us fairly and squarely. They have created a terrible situation for the riding public and for our members."

A statement from BART says the unions walked away from the table after reaching tentative agreement on 11 items.

Meanwhile, ferries filled up and traffic was slow on the Bay Bridge. The San Francisco Chronicle reported "bumper-to-bumper traffic," made worse by several crashes. Commuter Andrea Short said she's never seen traffic so bad on the approach to the bridge. KQED News intern Chase Thomas said it took him two hours to drive to San Francisco from his house in Martinez, about double the usual time. The San Jose Mercury News reported that CHP has "advised filling up gas tanks and bringing along plenty of water in case of long waits in traffic."

On the positive side, AC Transit workers did not go on strike. The Oakland-based bus agency and its drivers announced last night they're continuing to negotiate and employees will stay on the job. The agency handles about 190,000 passenger trips each weekday, mostly in Oakland and Berkeley.

Shuttle buses, carpools, ferries

KQED's Francesca Segre said people seemed to be figuring out the shuttle bus system that's been set up to get people from the station to the airport -- although she did run into one passenger at dawn who said she "hadn't gotten the memo" about today's strike.

More people headed to the casual carpool this morning as an alternative to BART. At the North Berkeley BART station, between eight to 12 cars were waiting at any given time to pick up carpoolers and take them to the Financial District of San Francisco, said KQED's Deborah Svoboda.

About 100 people were waiting for the ferry to Oakland. However, the line is not as long as staff expected.

Doris Johnson from San Francisco was escorted to the Ferry Building by her husband. "He's here this morning because he's trying to protect me. He thinks it's unsafe for me to be out this early in the morning alone," she said. "We walked from where we live at Leavenworth and Turk to the Civic Center to get to the 5 ... and now we're here at the East Bay Terminal trying to get a bus to Oakland to 19th and Harrison."

Michelle Crow from Fremont usually takes the 7 a.m. BART from Union City, but this morning she got up at 4 a.m. and took the 5 a.m. ferry to San Francisco. "[I'm] kind of pissed off. It's just tiring. I'm just dreading what it's going to be like in the afternoon. I'm expecting the worst," she said. "I do have workers' compensation, so I do understand the plight of the BART workers, but on the other hand I just think maybe they're asking for a little bit much."

Margaret Creelman usually takes the ferry to work in San Francisco. She told KQED's Aarti Shahani that "it was a lot more crowded than normal. A lot more people. A lot more sitting around. ... Normally, everybody is pretty quiet in the morning. There's a lot more bodies and a lot more chatter."

Meanwhile, ride-sharing services Sidecar, Uber and Lyft all said they were increasing drivers on the road to meet the extra demand.

Negotiations

BART said this afternoon it is hoping to schedule talks "very soon," but that "we do not have any further information on when negotiations will resume or how long the strike may last."

According to BART management before talks broke down, a tentative agreement was reached on 11 items. But on KQED radio's Forum program this morning, Randy Rentschler, director of legislation and public affairs for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC),  said that on the main issues -- compensation and health and pension contributions -- the two sides are far apart.

"Over time, public agencies have sought to protect their workers from increasing health care costs that have really snarled our economy for decades," he said. "I think that both sides are really stuck in this kind of national issue of rising health care costs, pensions that are difficult; and you can see that those are the two sticking points. .... Whether or not the two sides can find a middle ground on that subject is still an open question."

Alicia Trost, spokeswoman for BART, said the agency is "trying to figure out a balance between investing in our employees and investing in our system." Trost said that BART doubled its wage-increase proposal" yesterday, but that the union did not come back with a “more reasonable" offer. "We’re hoping the strike allows our employees to let off some steam. Maybe that’ll help get us back to the table and come up with a reasonable compromise," she said.

Mooney, chief negotiator for SEIU 1021, disputed the characterization that the unions had left the negotiations She said that what BART is characterizing as an offer of a wage increase really amounts to no net benefit for workers.

"If I give you a quarter in Paragraph 1 and then I take it away in Paragraph 2, that still amounts to zero," she said. "So while BART management has put a 5 percent raise on Page 1 ... they've taken it away on Page 4." Mooney said that means the gains in salary that workers would win under BART's proposal would be effectively nullified by a requirement that workers contribute an equivalent amount to their pensions. Citing "millions of dollars of surplus," Mooney said that BART's offer does not acknowledge that "the system is in great shape" and that "ridership is up."

BART's Alicia Trost, however, said, "We don't have a surplus. We have a tremendous unfunded capital need." She said in coming years, BART wants to buy 1,000 new train cars and a new train-control system, costs to which the agency will have to contribute 25 percent.

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