Bay Area News Group
Day 4 of the BART transit worker strike dumped thousands of stranded train riders onto highways, buses and ferries well before dawn Monday as the full weight of the labor shutdown landed squarely on commuters.
Backups at the usual highway and bridge choke points started a full hour earlier than usual. Ferries were at capacity even with extra boats on the water. Buses were full and lines to board were long.
"It really stinks not to ride that BART," said Darren Humphrey, a 45-year-old emergency room administrator who typically rides BART from Oakland to his job in San Francisco. He had to get up 90 minutes early and drive instead.
Relief is still uncertain.
"I don't want to overstate the amount of progress but we are at a snail's pace working on the remaining, very contentious issues that separate the sides," said BART Vice President Joel Keller of Antioch. "Having a board meeting today could have inflamed the situation at a time when we need to de-escalate the confrontation and make steps toward agreement."
BART is offering 12 percent in pay raises over the next four years in exchange for small hikes in employees' contribution toward their pensions and health insurance premiums. BART is also asking unions to relinquish veto power over certain operational decisions the managers say they need to improve efficiency.
Sunday night, the two unions representing the majority of BART workers said they delivered a proposal to BART management aimed at ending the strike and getting the parties back to the bargaining tables to finish negotiations.
The unions say the counterproposal "allows for the continued use of new technology in the workplace but protects workers from changes in work rules that would lead to unsafe conditions."
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 president Antonette Bryant had said her members will be allowed to vote on BART's latest offer although she predicted the result would be a "resounding no."
Adding tragedy to to an already ugly strike, a BART supervisor driving a train near Walnut Creek struck and killed two BART workers conducting track inspections on Saturday.
It is unclear if or how the strike contributed to the fatal accident, but federal authorities investigating the incident said Sunday say they will look at "everything." The National Transportation Safety Board was scheduled to hold a news conference at 4 p.m. Monday.
The story Monday morning, though, was all about the first of what could be many horrid commutes for the transit system's more than 200,000 daily riders until BART and its unions settle their dispute over pay, benefits and work rules.
Traffic on Highway 4 was backed up east of A Street in Antioch at 5:30 a.m., and westbound traffic across the Bay Bridge was bumper-to-bumper soon no long after.
While hurrying to pump gas into a gold Chrysler, Colin Webber of Brentwood said he left about 90 minutes earlier than normal to get a loved one to Hayward.
Also at the gas station, Edgar Robles of Sacramento said his girlfriend left at 4:20 a.m. Monday to get to San Francisco for a teaching internship. She normally takes BART at 7 a.m., but left earlier because she was "not familiar with the buses."
"Hopefully she has enough time to get through it OK," he said.
The ferries were a popular alternative, although not necessarily the warmest option on the chilly fall morning.
When Melissa Argue of Oakland finally made it through a line of more than 250 people and onto a San Francisco-bound ferry just after 6 a.m., the only open seats were outside on the top deck.
"If you aren't going to be in smelly BART, at least you can get some fresh air!" Argue said.
The first inbound ferry from Oakland had 194 on board, capacity for 600 people, while the first boat from Alameda was at capacity with 149 people. The first outbound ferry to Oakland from San Francisco had 60 people on board, nearly three times higher than Friday's first boat.
Just about every commuter asked said BART's shutdown meant a longer and more tortured route to work.
Dan Laval, 45, from Lafayette, works for the city of San Francisco and relied on his car, bike and boat to get to work Monday. Laval drove from Lafayette to Oakland, rode his bike to the ferry terminal and then rode the boat to San Francisco.
Jim Green, 61, of Sausalito, was waiting in line to take the ferry to Alameda. His two-hour trek began by taking a Golden Gate bus to San Francisco and walking to the Ferry building. From there, he was taking a boat to Alameda and waiting to see if a friend would give him a ride to San Leandro, where he works at a manufacturing company.
At the West Oakland BART Station, BART's last chartered bus rumbled off before 7:30 a.m. leaving dozens of commuters scrambling for a different way to get to work in San Francisco.
"It's devastating," Stephon Hopson said of just missing the bus.
BART limits the number of charter buses because it must guarantee passengers a ride back and doesn't have a big staging area in San Francisco.
"Unfortunately, this is where it gets ugly," BART worker and former Trustee Bob Franklin said.
For East Oakland neighbors Evan Combs and Alexis Pepple, the BART charter was the fourth bus they missed Monday morning.
The neighbors waited in vain for three AC Transit NX4 transbay buses they said never arrived at their East Oakland stop.
"So we hopped in a car and came there thinking there would be charter buses to get in the city and there are not," Combs said.
"What a mess," Pepple said.
Both Pepple and Combs got up shortly after 5 a.m. and started waiting for their buses by 6 a.m. At 7:45, Combs' wife arrived to try to drive them to the city.
If there is a silver lining, they're not expecting to catch any grief at work for being late. "My boss lives in Lafayette," Pepple said. "We're all dealing with the same thing."
On Monday morning, Sandy and Stephen Chan sat in a line of idling cars in the alley between Theater Square and Highway 24 in Orinda.
The carpooling couple typically pick up only one additional rider on their daily trek from Orinda to San Francisco's Mission district. But with additional commuters looking for rides today, they were open to more.
"We'll do our share to pick up as many people as possible," Sandy said.
"We're happy to drive and help anybody out that needs a ride," Stephen added.
The pair said their commute Friday, the first day of the current strike, was heavier than normal but "bearable." Still, they're frustrated by the standstill.
"It's unfair. I think (BART workers are) holding the whole Bay Area hostage by going on strike," Stephen said. "I think they're well paid and I think they're asking for more than what they should be asking for."
At the Lafayette BART station, Steve Alva, a BART contract management employee was busy guiding commuters onto waiting charter buses.
The buses are offering free shuttle service from several East Bay BART stations directly to San Francisco. BART is also offering free parking at the stations.
Alva said the first packed bus left at 5:05 a.m. Two hours later, he was filling bus number seven.
"The general mood of commuters has been very good. They understand what's happening and no one wants this to go on," Alva said. "We want this resolved as quickly as possible but in the meantime, we have to do what we have to do and make it as pleasant as possible," he said.
Andy Molloy's Monday commute began in Alamo, where he lives. From there, the IT worker drove to the Lafayette BART station.
On a normal day, Molloy usually takes BART from Walnut Creek to downtown San Francisco. Today, he was meeting up with two co-workers to carpool, and is planning to telecommute the rest of the week.
"It sucks," he said about the impending drive on an already congested Highway 24. "I'm not looking forward to this."
Prabha Sekhar stood beside a carpool pickup spot by the Walnut Creek BART entrance, waiting for her ride.
"I'm totally dependent on BART," said the pharmaceutical worker during a pause on her commute to Emeryville.
Sekhar woke up 45 minutes early to catch a Contra Costa County Connection shuttle bus from San Ramon to the BART station where she was waiting to be picked up by a co-worker. Still, the extra effort wasn't going to be enough to get her to work on time. Had BART had been running, Sekhar would have been at the office at 8 a.m. Now, she was hoping to make it there by 9 a.m.
The constant wait for strike information is also taking its toll on commuters, she said.
"Every day until midnight, we keep looking for details on how the negotiations are going," Sekhar said. "Each moment of their talks matters to us. Hopefully, it gets resolved quickly."
As the strike continues, federal investigators are in the Bay Area to determine exactly what happened Sunday when two BART workers were struck and killed while inspecting the track between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations.
Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in the Bay Area Sunday to begin inspecting the railway where a BART train struck and killed two workers. Investigators walked the tracks near Jones Road, took measurements, requested video and signal data from BART.
The names of the two workers were expected to be released Monday. They are the seventh and eighth BART workers to die on the job in the transit agency's 41-year history.
"We will be looking at everything, from the operations to the signals to the records that were kept," investigator Jim Southworth. He and the NTSB's Richard Hipskind are the two lead investigators into the transit workers' deaths. "This is going to be a thorough investigation, and it's going to take a long time."
Asked about the strike, Southworth said: "We are aware that there is a strike going on, but we don't know if or how it ties in. We are interested in everything."
The federal team will comb through piles of documents, perform mechanical inspections on BART equipment present during the accident and interview transit employees.
Video from a camera facing the cab of the train has also been requested for review, Southworth said. There was no camera facing outward from the front of the train that hit the workers, he said.
The four-car train was moved from the accident scene at 3:45 p.m. Sunday.
Southworth estimated that the investigation will take four to 10 days, with a final report and possible recommendations released in as early as six months. BART police and officials from Cal/OSHA and the California Public Utilities Commission also were at the scene Sunday.
The workers were struck around 1:53 p.m. Saturday, less than 48 hours after BART union workers went on strike and train service shut down. The two workers were on the tracks on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line, between the Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek stations. Their deaths happened where the tracks run parallel to Interstate 680 and Jones Road, near Chandon Court and Pimlico Drive.
The two were inspecting the track after reports of a "dip" in the rail, BART Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier said Saturday.
Both workers had extensive experience working on the track, he said. A BART manager was returning a train to the Concord yard after delivering vandalized cars to Richmond for cleaning, Oversier said.
BART officials said Saturday that one of the workers was a BART employee, and officials at AFSCME Local 3993 confirmed he was a member of the union.
BART union members went on strike less than 48 hours before the accident, but members of AFSCME are free to cross the picket line, AFSCME President Patricia Schuchardt said Saturday. Those workers were encouraged to "stand in solidarity" with others on the picket line.
The other worker was a contractor.
Whether the workers' deaths will have an impact on negotiations between BART management and its unions remain to be seen.
About 60 people, mostly BART employees, held candles in a circle during a vigil at the Walnut Creek BART station Sunday night. They offered condolences to the families of the two deceased workers, and repeatedly said the tragic accident was preventable.
Richard Stingily of Antioch, a 23-year BART employee, said, "Absolutely no one deserves to be killed in an accident like this. I can't imagine how the families are feeling. Make no mistake, safety issues and work rules are paramount."
BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said no full-scale face-to-face talks between management and union leaders are scheduled. But the two sides have been in contact with one another, as well as with a mediator to determine what's next, Trost said.
"Since there is no announced end to the strike, commuters are urged to continue to make alternate plans," Trost said in the statement.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican would not comment on the labor issues in the aftermath of the deaths, nor would Amalgamated Transit Local Union 1555 president Antonette Bryant.
Union officials repeatedly warned the public during contentious negotiations that managers would create dangerous situations by operating trains, while management assured the public that those operators were certified and safe, and might shuttle a smaller fleet of trains if the strike lasts a long time.
Staff writers Jennifer Modenessi, Mark Gomez, Rick Hurd, David DeBolt, Mike Rosenberg, Matthias Gafni, Gary Peterson and Doug Oakley contributed to this report. Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.