Parking hard to find on Day 2 of Philadelphia transit strike
PHILADELPHIA >> Frustrated commuters fought traffic jams and struggled to find parking Wednesday as a transit strike entered its second day with the city’s main transit agency reporting progress at the bargaining table.
The walkout began early Tuesday after the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and a union representing about 4,700 workers failed to reach a contract agreement, shutting down buses, trolleys and subways that provide about 900,000 rides a day. A current cap on union pension benefits and the amount of time off provided to operators between shifts were among the issues on the table.
SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said the two sides were making “steady progress.” He said talks resumed Tuesday night and were continuing Wednesday.
Highways around the region experienced major backups as thousands of people who normally take city transit jumped in their cars instead.
Gary Breezer, 62, of Philadelphia, usually drives to work but found parking at a premium Wednesday, even after leaving home early to get to the city’s business district.
He said he usually parks in a lot, but “everybody had the same idea as me today,” he said. Instead, he parked on a street where the city had waived its usual parking restrictions.
The city’s bike-share program was doing a booming business. Gabby Richards, 23, said she was relieved Wednesday morning to get the last bike available at the stand near her home.
“There’s a powerful message coming with this strike about how important public transportation is to the city of Philadelphia and to people like me,” Richards said. “I’ve been making my plans each day around Uber surge pricing and traffic. It’s clear that something needs to happen to get people moving smoothly again.”
This is the ninth strike since 1975 by the city transit union. The last one, in 2009, lasted six days.
Bus operators walking the picket lines Wednesday said they were striking to protect their benefits, lift a limit on pension benefits and secure better working conditions.
“We’re on the front lines every day, battling out here with these people getting spit on, punched at, getting called all kinds of names while they (management) sit up in their cushy office doing nothing,” bus operator Andre Rhoads said.
Bus operator Anthony Lindsay said the strikers understand the inconvenience they are causing. “But we also have cousins and mothers and fathers and uncles and nieces and nephews and neighbors who are also suffering with us. So, it shouldn’t last long, but it is what it is,” he said.
Democratic city leaders were working to help end the contract impasse because of the transportation havoc it was creating and because of fears of it lasting through Election Day. The leaders said they feared the hassles of commuting might leave some Philadelphians with little time to vote Nov. 8.
The transit agency has said if no agreement is reached before Election Day, it would seek an injunction to force the restoration of service that day. The union has said it would oppose any effort to force its employees back to work without a new contract in hand.
The strike wasn’t supposed to have a major effect on regional rail lines. But at the start of Tuesday’s evening rush hour, striking workers prevented some regional train crews from reporting to work. SEPTA got an injunction against the union but not soon enough to prevent long delays in trains leaving the city and the cancellation of some service.
The strike is also affecting the Philadelphia school district. SEPTA provides rides for nearly 60,000 public, private and charter school students.
Market-Frankford line trains remain idle at a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) station Tuesday, in Upper Darby. Commuters scrambled Tuesday to find alternate ways to travel as transit workers in Philadelphia and around 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.