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BART strike frustrates commuters

on July 2, 2013

It’s day two of the BART strike, and commuters across San Francisco are not happy. From the Mission District to the Embarcadero, children, teenagers and adults squeezed onto overcrowded buses, hailed cabs, made phone calls to jobs and loved ones to say they’d be late, and stood in long lines for AC Transit buses and ferries headed across the Bay.

“It’s a huge inconvenience for everybody,” said Joe Guthrie, of the East Bay, as he rode the 14L bus to 16th and Mission streets Tuesday afternoon. Guthrie, 53, has depended on BART for the past seven years to commute to the Mission once a week for a volunteer job at the non-profit San Francisco Sex Information organization. Today, he waited 35 minutes for an AC Transit bus to arrive to take him across the Bay Bridge. “First late, then crowded,” he said of his experience.

By the time Guthrie’s bus reached 5th and Mission, it was packed. “Coming out, coming out,” they yelled, as the bus approached stops full of more people. “Move back, move back,” the driver ordered her passengers. “The one behind me should be less crowded than this,” she assured people on the street before pulling away without them.

Johnny Lorenz, a needle exchange manager and support group supervisor at the San Francisco Drug Users Union, waited for the 49 bus at 24th and Mission this morning with his three-year-old daughter, Hannah Iger. Normally, Lorenz takes Iger on BART to her daycare center in Balboa Park. Today, the strike forced them to change plans.

“I’m in favor of labor unions,” Lorenz said. “I understand how hard it is for people to make even close to a living wage. At the same time, these guys are affecting 500,000 people.”

Lorenz said the fact that BART is a public service is disconcerting. “It’s like firefighters or nurses going on strike,” he said. “It worries me because people are not getting important services.”

Anticipating the strike, Sidecar, a car sharing service, temporarily stopped charging commission on rides in an effort to alleviate commute problems. According to spokesperson Rachael King, the company had 25 percent more drivers today than it did last Tuesday.

“Usually I see a request every 10 minutes,” said Sidecar driver Eden Foutz. “Now it’s every five minutes.”

For people like Chelsea Martens, a manager of a day program for adults with disabilities, the BART strike hasn’t put a damper on her daily routine. “I’m really lucky,” she said, as she waited for a co-worker to pick her up at the 24th Street BART Station. “I live and work in the city.”

People she knows, however, haven’t been as lucky. One of the coaches at her job slept in the office last night so he wouldn’t have to worry about getting from the East Bay to the city for work today. And houseguests have been welcome at her apartment. “I’m having a slumber party with friends until the strike is over,” she said.

Before moving to the city, Martens, 27, spent $140 a month commuting to her job from her home in Oakland. Today, even though she pays more in rent, she saves when it comes to commuting.“It’s totally crazy,” she said of public transportation. “It’s supposed to be accessible. It’s not like I was taking a private taxi every day to work.”

Martens feels that BART workers should have negotiated for lower fares. “It would have been a nice gesture,” she said. “And more people would have been in favor of the strike.”

Tony Brown, who waited on a bench in front of Pier 2 on the Embarcadero for a ferry to his home in Alameda, agreed that the unions are going to lose public support due to their greed.

“I’m usually very supportive of unions,” he said, as a line of more than 100 people waiting for the ferry wrapped around the docks. “But they’re kind of losing touch with reality.”

Brown, who works as an attorney on Beale Street in the city, said that most people would be angered by BART’s requests if they read the fine print of the negotiations. “Especially during these economic times,” he said. “America’s standard of living is increasing. It’s not like we’re having inflation.”

Brown left work in the early afternoon to avoid the chaos of this evening’s commute. “I don’t like all these people being on my ferry,” he said. Even though more ferries are running to accommodate people affected by the strike, they are still more crowded than usual, Brown said. “There are twice as many people on each boat, which is not the norm.”

Frustrated with the delays, Brown still commended the ferry workers for doing a good job in a tough situation. “I think people just expect the worst,” he said. “So just getting average, we’re pleased.”

Over at the temporary Transbay Terminal at Howard and Beale streets, Laurie San Martin said that she was impressed with the fast and friendly service provided by AC Transit. “It seemed that everyone who got on the bus had a question to ask,” she said. “So he (the driver) was very patient.”

AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said that a total of six runs have been added to the daily San Francisco Transbay service, and employees are working overtime to help during the strike. “Normally, our capacity is at 50 percent,” he said of the service, which runs between San Francisco and the East Bay. “Yesterday and today we were operating as standing room only.”

Commuters filled up the platforms waiting for buses that would take them to Berkeley and Oakland. They asked security guards and each other where the buses were going, when the next one was coming, and how each other’s days were being impacted.

“You going to teach?” a woman asked a man standing in line behind her.

“Yeah,” he replied. “I got up early in case anything went wrong.”

Miguel Malbas, a security guard for Universal Protection Private Security, was called in on his day off to help during the strike. “It was hectic this morning,” he said of the scene at 8 a.m. “The line was a long zigzag, like a snake.”

Malbas said he heard rumors that the strike would last until next Tuesday. For now, he and AC Transit are doing everything they can to accommodate people.

“[The buses are] running late, but you’ll be one of the first ones on the next one,” an AC Transit supervisor told a tourist with a large suitcase. “All right, good luck.”

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