Leanna Peng, of Oakland, is happy to be getting out of town this Saturday. Not only because she’ll be starting a two-week vacation from her job in San Francisco, but because she won’t be around if Bay Area Rapid Transit employees decide to strike again on Monday.
“I take BART a lot,” she says, as she waits for a bus to the East Bay. Only two other people are waiting in line with her at the Transbay Terminal at Howard and Beale streets in San Francisco Wednesday afternoon. “It took me a long time for sure to get home,” she adds, referring to the last BART strike the first week of July.
Bay Area commuters, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) employees and Transbay Terminal security guards are bracing for another strike that could take place Monday morning if BART and its unions do not reach an agreement by the time the current contract expires on Sunday night. Because the last strike took place during a holiday week, many commuters were out of town or staying home — that means the number of riders could be higher this time.
BART officials and unions have yet to reach an agreement on concerns that range from pay, to contributions to healthcare and pensions. The current proposal includes an 8 percent pay raise over four years, 5 percent employee pension contributions and 10 percent contributions for employee healthcare, according to a statement issued by BART on July 30.
“I’m not looking forward to the next (strike),” says Marcus Sewell, a security guard for Universal Protection Private Security. At the Transbay Terminal, Sewell points down the street to where lines of people snaked around corners during the last strike. “It was hectic out here.”
Sewell, who worked two days of the last four-and-a-half-day strike, remembers crowded buses, people cutting in front of each other in line to avoid having to wait for another bus and spending hours helping commuters board buses. “Everybody was packed liked sardines,” he says.
The security company has warned employees of the possible strike, Sewell says, but hasn’t made major changes. “They knew I handled it pretty well last time,” he says proudly.
Kristen Holland, a spokesperson with SFMTA says that during the July strike, there was a 14-percent increase per day in riders throughout the Muni system. In the Mission corridor, there was a 40-percent increase in Muni ridership.
“That certainly shows us it’s a good place to focus on,” says Holland, who notes that the transportation agency will closely monitor the corridor if a strike is called, and prioritize service there. The SFMTA also plans to expand its casual carpool service by adding a second pickup location on Spear Street.
“We’re planning for the worst but hoping for the best,” Holland says.
Some commuters hadn’t heard about the possible strike. Standing at the 24th Street Mission Station platform waiting for a train to the East Bay, Alexey Gulenko and Patty Wu looked at each other worriedly when they heard their commute could be disrupted. Wu uses BART every day to commute from her home in the Mission to her job in Union City.
During the last strike, she worked from home because carpooling or taking a ferry to work would have taken her around four hours round-trip. “More convenience and efficiency,” she says of working from home.
Commuters like Kristina do not have the luxury of working outside of the office. The 26-year-old who declined to give her last name, lives in San Pablo and works in Daly City. She says that her only option during the last strike was to stay with an acquaintance in South San Francisco. “It was that or get fired,” she says.
Kristina spent a week in what she felt was an unsafe situation, just to be able to get to work on time. If she didn’t make it to work, there would be no one to cover her position at a non-profit that works with foster youth.
“It creates uncomfortable situations with unfamiliar people,” she says of BART going on strike.
Lay, 17, who also declined to give her last name, says that she was out of town for the last strike, but that her godmother, who lives in Hayward and works in San Francisco, asked if she could stay in Lay’s room.
“I just think it sucks for the people who rely on it,” she says. Lay takes BART five days a week from her home in the Balboa District to her job at the Adidas store in downtown San Francisco. In case of another strike, she would have to resort to her backup plan.
“I could take the M,” she says referring to the Muni line, “but I know it will be packed.”
Luis Montano, a civil engineer, says he would be disappointed if BART employees strike again. Montano lives in Fairfield and works in Walnut Creek, but he is sometimes sent to San Francisco for his job. He says that if BART were to shut down, he’d have to come up with another plan.
“(My job) would send me here, but I’d have to drive,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to drive here. Traffic and parking…it’s hard.”
If no agreement is reached by Sunday’s deadline, unions will likely issue a 72-hour strike notice. But it is unclear how long the strike would last. Peng, who will return from vacation in two weeks, wonders if she’ll be able to get home from the airport.
“Actually, I’m a little bit worried,” she says. “I’m just not sure how I’m going to get back to Oakland if there’s a strike going on.”
Marcus Sewell, the security guard, is scheduled to work on Monday afternoon. When he arrives for his shift at the Transbay Terminal, many of the 400,000 daily BART riders could be waiting in long lines for buses to the East Bay. For now, he enjoys the quiet of an empty bus station.
“This is how I like it,” he says.