Commuters get resourceful as SEPTA strike grips Philly

Written by The Associated Press | Nov 1, 2016 12:35 PM

A pedestrian outside a locked rail station in west Philadelphia today. Commuters scrambled 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. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

(Philadelphia) -- Stranded commuters jumped on bikes, grabbed cabs and hitched rides with friends or family as Philadelphia transit workers went on strike Tuesday after the city's main transit agency and a union representing about 4,700 workers failed to reach a contract agreement.

The walkout, which began at 12:01 a.m., shut down Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority buses, trolleys and subways that provide about 900,000 rides a day. No new talks were scheduled.

Rail lines serving the suburbs continued to operate but were jammed and running late because of a surge in riders who couldn't take buses or other city transit.

At 69th Street Terminal, a transit hub near the city border in Upper Darby, idle buses sat in a row with "SEPTA OFF DUTY" illuminated in yellow lights. Ramone Whiters, 32, of Drexel Hill, waited there for a friend to give him a ride into the city for work. His car was in the shop.

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

Alexia Coleman-Smith, 27, split an Uber so she could get to a station to get a train out to the city's western suburbs. He planned to walk home from the station later in the day to save money.

Brendan McQuiggan used the city's bike-share service to pedal to his job from the downtown area to Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood. He usually takes the subway.

LaBria Wilson, 16, usually takes a bus to get to the station where she grabs a train out to the suburbs and the prep school she attends. But on Tuesday she got up an hour early and had her mother drive her to the train.

In declaring the strike, Transport Workers Union Local 234 President Willie Brown said management "refused to budge on key issues including safety issues that would save lives and not cost SEPTA a dime."

He said the sides remained 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 said it was ready to resume bargaining. If no agreement is reached before Election Day, the agency said it would seek an injunction to restore service on that day "to ensure that the strike does not prevent any voters from getting to the polls and exercising their right to vote."

It is at least the ninth strike by city transit workers since 1975. The last one, in 2009, lasted six days.

Among those walking the picket line early Tuesday was Frank Brinkman, 52, a 32-year SEPTA employee. He said he hoped a deal could be worked out soon.

"I feel bad for them, I really do," he said of transit riders, "but this affects everybody's families.

"It's not an easy decision and (SEPTA) say it's about the taxpayers, but we're out here and we're taxpayers too," he said.

The city set up a special bus service to get its employees to and from work. Universities and some businesses also arranged new or expanded bus service for employees.

The strike had a major impact on the Philadelphia school system because SEPTA provides rides for nearly 60,000 public, private and charter school students. Students were encouraged to do everything possible to get to school on time but the district said students wouldn't be penalized for being late.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney urged the two sides to keep talking. Wolf said the strike was causing "extreme hardships."

Democratic District Attorney Seth Williams joined transit workers for a photograph on a picket line, tweeting that he was "showing some love for the men & women of TWU Local #234."

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