Transit strike leaves Philly commuters stuck, scrambling

A train moves along the Market-Frankford Line in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. Transit workers went on strike early Tuesday, Nov. 1, in Philadelphia, shutting down bus, trolley and subways that provide about 900,000 rides a day and raising fears a prolonged walkout could keep some voters from the polls on Election Day. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A train moves along the Market-Frankford Line in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. Transit workers went on strike early Tuesday, Nov. 1, in Philadelphia, shutting down bus, trolley and subways that provide about 900,000 rides a day and raising fears a prolonged walkout could keep some voters from the polls on Election Day. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Commuters scrambled Tuesday to find alternate ways to travel as transit workers in Philadelphia hit the picket lines after the city’s main transit agency and a union representing about 4,700 workers failed to reach a contract agreement.

The union went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, shutting down Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority buses, trolleys and subways that provide about 900,000 rides a day. The strike does not affect most service outside the city, including commuter rail lines, which was experiencing modest delays and an increase in riders.

But at 69th Street Terminal, a major transit hub a few blocks from the city border in Upper Darby, idle buses sat in a row with “SEPTA OFF DUTY” illuminated in yellow lights. Nearby, commuters were stuck trying to find another way into Philadelphia.

Ramone Whiters, 32, Drexel Hill, said he was left in a lurch because the car he typically takes to work was in the shop. Without another way into the city, he was waiting for an early morning ride.

“At least if they’re going to strike, then do it in the summertime,” Whiters said. “It’s cold to be stranded out here.”

Commuters said the regional rail trains that were running Tuesday had been more crowded than usual, with riders who usually bus to work. Students rushed from trains to try to catch school buses to class, while some who faced delayed schedules were left to walk.

Alexia Coleman-Smith, 27, split an Uber to get to the Overbrook Station to grab a train to work in Philadelphia’s western suburbs Tuesday, but planned to walk home from the station later in the day to save money. She said her train was later than usual because of the influx of riders.

TWU Local 234 President Willie Brown said union members will report for picket duty “after management has refused to budge on key issues including safety issues that would save lives and not cost SEPTA a dime.”

Brown said the sides remain far apart on pension and health care issues, as well as noneconomic issues such as shift scheduling, break time and other measures that affect driver fatigue.

SEPTA expressed its disappointment in the decision in a statement released after the strike was announced. The agency said it was “ready and willing” to continue bargaining and was hopeful a tentative agreement would be reached before Election Day.

“If we foresee an agreement will not come to pass, SEPTA intends to seek to enjoin the strike for November 8th to ensure that the strike does not prevent any voters from getting to the polls and exercising their right to vote,” SEPTA said.

Businesses, hospitals and schools began preparing last week for a possible transit shutdown.

The strike was expected to have a major impact on the Philadelphia school system, though it will remain open. SEPTA normally provides rides for nearly 60,000 public, private and charter school students.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf encouraged both sides early Tuesday to continue talking until an agreement is reached. He called it devastating for individuals and families dependent on the agency and said the strike created hardships for the city and businesses.

Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney also urged SEPTA and the union to keep communicating despite the strike, and he urged residents to have patience.

In 2014, union members ratified a two-year contract that averted a threatened walkout. In 2009, a strike by SEPTA workers lasted six days.

Greg Lassiter, 30, of Clifton Heights, said the buses are his only way to work in the city.

“Now, I’m either paying too much for a cab or missing a day of work,” Lassiter said.

On Tuesday, Lassiter, who has already paid a $24 SEPTA pass for his usual travel, settled on an $11 Uber ride.

LaBria Wilson, 16, found her usual commute extended by at least an hour due to the strike. She usually catches a bus from her West Philadelphia home to the Overbrook station, where she trains to class at The Shipley School in the Philadelphia suburbs. On Tuesday, Wilson woke up an hour earlier than usual and her mother had to drive her to catch the train to the suburbs.

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