Bay Area Rapid Transit travelers wait to board an arriving train Oct. 12 in Oakland, Calif.
(Photo: Ben Margot, AP)
SAN FRANCISCO -- Hundreds of thousands of BART commuters, stymied by a midnight strike by rail transit workers, headed out before dawn Friday to try to snag extra buses and ferries or to battle mile-long backups at the Bay Bridge.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit system, the nation's fifth largest, normal serves 400,000 riders each day.
It was the second strike this year after a deadline to resolve contract negotiations passed without a deal.
Commuters from the East Bay who chose to drive before dawn to try to beat the traffic quickly found that their fellow commuters were doing likewise.
The California HIghway Patrol, which urged commuters to carpool, reported backups on all approaches to the Bay Bridge around 8 a.m. local time and said commuters should expect "heavy delays."
Traffic was backed up to a standstill at interstate 80, the main road approaching the Bay Bridge for many commuters living along much of the BART lines connecting Berkeley, Richmond and other communities.
Cars were backed up for more than a mile leading into the toll plaza, with all lanes moving at a crawl. Many drivers appeared to be giving up and turning back.
Other transportation options were equally problematic. Transit officials arranged for five to 15 buses at each station running into San Francisco starting at 5 a.m. and out of the city beginning at 3 p.m.
But BART officials conceded that the 200 free charter buses at nine East Bay stations will accommodate only about 6,000 commuters.
ABC7 reports that one bus that left Walnut Creek at 6:10 a.m. arrived in the city at 7:40 a.m., about an hour longer than the commute normally takes by rail.
Some commuters said BART negotiators may have deliberately picked a Friday -- the lightest commute day -- for a strike and the worst is yet to come. "Once it hits Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, it's going to be a big issue," say John Boitnott, 38, of Redwood City, Calif.
Boitnott normally drives to the Millbrae BART station and rides to the Embarcadero station but opted to work from home instead.
"I didn't want to drive in because where I work, in downtown San Francisco in the financial district, it would have cost me $30 to park."
Also, there's not exactly a lot of public good will toward the BART union, he said: "They are getting paid a lot, and people are pissed off."
Some frustrated commuters took to Twitter to express their anger:
•Ron Gleeson (@rtgleeson3m) offered his solution: "Fire every single current employee, hang a huge 'Now hiring' sign outside BART building. Positions filled by Mon."
•Amy Miller (?@Siliconlaw14h) posted her thoughts: "Oh #Bart and unions. Do you enjoy cultivating public ire and condemnation? Apparently so."
The San Francisco Bay Ferry was running 12 boats instead of its normal eight, Bay Area News reports. There will be no BART shuttle service to the airport during the strike,
BART workers last went on strike in July, when transportation in the San Francisco area saw severe rush-hour delays over a four-day period.
At the center of the dispute is a disagreement over salaries and employee benefits such as health care and pensions.
The development marks a reversal from earlier reports from a union leader, who indicated both sides were moving closer in contentious labor talks between BART and unions that have dragged on for six months.
The unions said one of the work rules that BART wanted to change was employees' fixed work schedules. Some employees work four-day, 10-hour shifts while others work five-day, eight-hour shifts. Union officials said BART wanted to schedule people as they saw fit.
BART officials say work rules refer to past practices that require approval from unions and management to change. The rules make it difficult to implement technological changes or add extra service on holidays because of a special event, the agency says.
Sanchez said the unions suggested taking the remaining issues to arbitration but management refused.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican countered that the agency needed to alter some of those rules to run the system efficiently. She said BART also needed to control costs to help pay for new rail cars and other improvements.
"We are not going to agree to something we can't afford. We have to protect the aging system for our workers and the public," Crunican said.
Contributing: Associated Press