If BART workers strike, commute times could be hellish 

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Telecommute. Change your work hours. Or settle in and try to enjoy — or at least survive — what will be a longer and slower ride to work.

BART management and representatives from the regional rail network's five unions are still working to negotiate a new labor contract. Negotiations continued up until press time Thursday, without much success.

If those talks fail, the transit agency's more than 2,000 workers could go on strike as early as Monday morning.

BART workers this week voted to authorize a strike if no deal is reached by the time their current contract expires Sunday. The unions could, but are not required, to give 72-hour advance notice in case of a work stoppage.

The list of travel options for a Bay Area without BART service is short, and all alternatives would require giving yourself more time to commute.

The last time BART service shut down due to a strike was in 1997, for six days. During that strike, driving times doubled, traffic for the Bay Bridge toll plaza backed up to Livermore and congestion began as early as 4:30 a.m.

But that was when 275,000 riders a day used BART. Now there are 400,000, and almost one-third of the estimated 265,000 people who commute into The City for work take BART, according to census estimates.

"It's just leagues different now," said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which manages regional transportation policy.

Caltrans officials readily admit that roadways will be more crowded more often without BART, but they do not know exactly how bad drives will be.

"We won't know until [the strike] happens," Goodwin said. "We hope we will never find out."

Other public transportation operations exist and some are planning to boost service. But some cannot, and none will be able to replace BART's capacity.

"It's a situation where there is no good alternative," said Christine Dunn, a spokeswoman for Caltrain, whose 50,000 daily riders along the Peninsula are already filling trains to capacity.

"Even on a regional basis, with all of us combined, we can't 'man up' to replace BART's capacity," said Clarence Johnson, a spokesman for AC Transit, which carries 174,000 people a day.

Those who are able to work from home or change their working hours are urged to do so, but employers are under no legal obligation to make such accommodations.

Many workers have no choice but to come into work.

"A security guard has to be on the job, just as a nurse does or a bank teller," said Rufus Jeffries, a spokesman for the Bay Area Council, which represents some of the area's biggest corporate employers.

It will largely be left to citizens themselves — and the "volunteer spirit of drivers," Goodwin said — to figure out how to get about.

Regional transportation officials are urging drivers to fill every empty seat in their vehicles with friends and strangers.

BART itself might charter buses or otherwise provide alternate transportation, but no plan has been finalized and it would be "very limited," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said this week.


• Commuters are urged to travel in off-hours, leaving for work earlier or leaving for home later, and to carpool.

• BART parking lots will be available to commuters, who can find a "casual carpool" pickup location via a map at traffic.511.org/#TRIP; more information at ridenow.org.

• Caltrans will add additional toll collectors to the Bay Bridge, adjust metering lights and extend HOV hours on Interstate 80.

• Commuters can bypass the Bay Bridge and take the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and then the Golden Gate Bridge, but this commute involves a road that narrows to one lane in each direction and is already "at capacity" in the afternoons.

• Above all, allot extra time for travel.


AC Transit (14,000 commuters to San Francisco; 174,000 total daily riders):

• Will operate a bus shuttle from 20th Street and Broadway in Oakland to downtown San Francisco "every 3 to 5 minutes."

• Will increase daily trans-Bay capacity to 30,000 trips from 14,000.


• May run shuttles from East Bay BART stations such as Fremont, Walnut Creek and Dublin/Pleasanton to West Oakland, where a second bus will take commuters into The City.


• Will run a shuttle from the Daly City and Colma stations to the link to Muni at the top of the hill in Daly City.


• Routes from Vallejo that normally terminate at the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station will continue all the way to the temporary Transbay Terminal in San Francisco.


• Will prioritize resources to add extra service on 14-Mission, 49-Van Ness, J-Church and N-Judah lines.


SF Bay Ferry (6,000 normal daily commuters):

• Capacity expanded from 20,000 seats to 50,000 seats.

• Extra ferries on Vallejo-S.F. and Alameda-S.F. routes; 11 vessels in service instead of the usual eight.

• Ferries will run every 45 minutes from 6 a.m. to 8:35 p.m.

Golden Gate Ferry (5,550 normal daily commuters):

• Already at capacity, no extra boats.

Caltrain (50,000 normal daily commuters):

• Most trains are at capacity.

• Extra trains may be put into service, but not on a regular basis.


Muni says it will ensure extra taxis are available in key areas, and parking control officers will direct drivers to garages.

Note: More information can be found at alert.511.org.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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