Philly transit strike causes second day of gridlock
By MEGAN TRIMBLE
PHILADELPHIA — Frustrated motorists fought traffic gridlock at morning and evening rush hours Wednesday during the second day of a city transit strike as negotiators worked to end the impasse, with the union saying progress was being made but only very slowly.
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.
Talks continued Wednesday night.
SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said “steady progress” had been made. Early Wednesday night, Transport Workers Union spokesman Jamie Horwitz agreed there had been progress, but said it was being made “inch by inch.”
Highways around the region experienced major backups as thousands of people who normally take city transit used their cars instead.
New York businessman Cesar Rivera, 34, said late Wednesday it was “useless” to try to drive out of the city during the evening rush.
“I will be thinking about crashing at a friend’s place if it stays like this,” Rivera said. “Everytime I cross the street tonight it’s been on a green (light) because the traffic has been so bad and hardly moving.”
Regional rail lines experienced delays for a second night as a result of increased demand caused by the idling of city buses, trolleys and subways. One line was also shut down for a time after a fatality, unrelated to the strike, was reported on the tracks.
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.”
Uber said it had 41 percent more unique riders during rush hours Tuesday compared with the same day the previous week.
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 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 is also affecting the Philadelphia school district. SEPTA provides rides for nearly 60,000 public, private and charter school students.