OAKLAND -- Heavy traffic, crowded buses and packed ferries greeted frustrated commuters Friday morning as they scrambled for options in the wake of a BART strike called after contract talks failed Thursday afternoon.
Just after midnight, union leaders picked up picket signs and said they would not go back to work until they could reach a contract agreement with management. It shut down the nation's fifth largest rail system, stranding 200,000 people who ride BART round trip each day.
It was not clear when talks would resume or when the shut down would end.
"This has come to an epic boiling point and the responsibility lies at BART's feet," said Pete Castelli, executive director of the Service Employees International Union, adding that communications are occurring between the two sides, but no formal negotiating session is scheduled.
Cecille Isidro, spokeswoman for the local Service Employees International Union, said the strike was solely over work rules. But BART said the unions were still seeking 15.9 percent wage increases over 4 years, compared to management's offer for a total 12 percent raise to add to the average union workers' gross pay of $76,500, the highest among California transit agencies. The two sides had agreed, however, on BART's offer to raise pension contributions from zero to 4 percent, and increase monthly health care contributions from $92 to $144.
"The stakes are sky-high but the solutions are within reach," BART General Manager Grace Crunican said Friday. "The public needs the trains to run. We need a spirit of compromise from our unions."
Facing the second Bay Area commute nightmare in three months, many travelers started their day earlier than usual as they found other ways to get to work.
"You have to roll with the punches in the Bay Area and just prepare yourself," said Oakland compliance officer Juan Brooks, who left an hour earlier than usual -- at 5:15 a.m.
Paul Soules of Antioch, an attorney in Lafayette, takes BART daily, and now he and his wife are sharing their one vehicle to commute to work. Their plan calls for her to drop him off, then go to work and pick him up later: "It's inconvenient," he said.
While traffic was heavier across the board Friday morning, the California Highway Patrol said commuters on Interstate 880 heading toward San Francisco took the brunt of the region's traffic woes. Cars stood still for 15 miles of the northbound stretch, backed up from the Bay Bridge toll plaza to Highway 238 by about 9 a.m. INRIX, a traffic data provider, reported that stretch as the worst Bay Area commute Friday morning, as it took drivers an hour to go the 13 miles from 238 to the bridge -- up from 21 miles in an hour last week.
"There are more vehicles out there on the road, but incident-wise it's been about normal," Officer James Evans said. "All in all, I wouldn't say it's a lot worse, except on the 880."
More than 100 union members and supporters rallied outside the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland Friday afternoon.
"They want to implement whatever changes to our working conditions that they want at will," said Chris Finn, recording secretary for the local Amalgamated Transit Union.
Friday morning, six picket lines circled the Lake Merritt station, with workers chanting, "No Contract, No Peace." A couple drivers yelled at the employees to "get back to work" while an AC Transit bus driver honked in support.
BART employee Brendan McIntyre, one of the striking workers, put the blame on management.
"They won't give us a contract," he said. "They just want to take away our benefits and money -- everything we've got."
San Francisco Bay Ferry saw as many as 200 people ride some boats Friday morning and the parking lots at terminals in Alameda were full before the sun rose.
"It's a little frustrating," said Michael Fuller, 31, of Oakland, as he waited in line shortly after 6 a.m. at the Main Street terminal. "But it's not that bad if you plan for it and give yourself plenty of time."
Alex Haler, 27, who lives in San Francisco's Mission District, usually takes BART to work in Oakland. Friday morning, clad in running shoes, shorts and a long-sleeve shirt, he ran from his home to the Ferry Building and planned to catch a boat and then run to the office -- a total seven-mile journey.
"I'm not too happy about this," Haler said. "It's ridiculous to shut down an entire transit system claiming it's about safety when it's really about money."
Rebecca Biles of Pittsburg, who woke up at 3:30 to get to work, was even angrier: "I hate BART," she said. "I may never ride it again. The ferry was actually pretty awesome, and I may just take it in the future. And the best part is they serve cocktails on the way home."
Over at the bus stop at 20th Street and Broadway in Oakland, the lines were much shorter Friday morning than during the BART strike in July, commuter Ceci Coon said.
"I'm trying to stay calm and just accept it, but I am just outraged -- two strikes in four months," said Oakland resident John Munnerlyn, who expected it would take him an hour to get to work in San Francisco, three times as long as it takes him on BART. "I'm not happy with the unions and their leaders. I think they have really bad leaders -- four months and no contract."
Vallejo resident Laura Noel spent the night at a friend's house in Oakland to ease her commute. And Oakland's Jean Paul Mulela was woken up with the news by a friend at 5 a.m.: "After that, I couldn't sleep," said Mulela, who works in San Francisco.
Some commuters never made it to work. Gabriel Cobos of Antioch, a roofer, planned to take BART to his job in Concord as he always does. He wasn't aware of the BART strike until his bus dropped passengers off just short of the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station property. Tri Delta Transit buses will not enter the Pittsburg/Bay Point or Concord stations during the strike.
"It's unfair," Cobos said.
At the Dublin-Pleasanton station, some recently-released inmates from the Santa Rita Jail were sent to BART with some useless transit passes. With no money for a cab, they wound up waiting for a bus.
Just outside the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station, Sukhwinder Singh Chauhan was standing on the sidewalk chatting with a group of his fellow cab drivers, all looking a bit forlorn, around 2 p.m. Friday.
"Less business. Ninety percent," Chauhan said. "I started at 8 o'clock. I made only one fare."
Usually, "on a Friday, I'm busy," he said.
Staff writers Matthias Gafni, Gary Peterson, Mark Gomez, Elisabeth Nardi, Robert Rogers, Erin Ivie, Pete Hegarty, Doug Oakley, Tom Lochner and The Associated Press, contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.