Philly Riders Face Day 2 Of Strike

An unidentified bicyclist travels on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Monday, Oct. 31, 2005, in evening rush-hour traffic. Thousands of city transit workers went on strike early Monday morning, leaving nearly half a million commuters in need of alternate transportation. Contract talks broke down late Sunday between the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and the Transport Workers Union. (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)
Usually, Chris Hambrose's commute to work takes 14 minutes on the subway. It's taking substantially more these days as a transit strike brings the city's buses, subways and trolleys to a halt.

"I'm not happy. How can you be happy?" asked Hambrose, who was waiting Monday for a ride to take him from his home in South Philadelphia to his job in North Philadelphia.

A second day of travel nightmares dawned Tuesday for nearly half a million people and there was no end to the strike in sight. No new labor negotiations are scheduled.

Contract talks between the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and the Transport Workers Union broke off Sunday night, and union members walked off the job early Monday. Gov. Ed Rendell issued a statement saying he was confident an agreement could be reached if both sides would return to the bargaining table.

The Philadelphia School District reported elementary and middle school attendance was down 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively. But attendance at its magnet high schools, whose students come from all over the city and often rely on public transportation, dropped by up to 30 percent Monday, said Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer.

Volume was heavy on commuter rail lines, which remained in service because those employees have a different union contract. One of those riding was Dorothy Pollock, 54, of Broomall, who said the strike had forced her to get up at 4:30 a.m. and had thrown off her whole day.

"I'm exhausted," said Pollock. "I've taken a shorter lunch."

Eric Livingston chose to heed the advice of the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia and bike to work. Livingston, who usually takes SEPTA, said he dusted off his bicycle and was happy to find that his commute was six minutes shorter than usual.

Labor negotiations broke off around midnight Sunday. Wages, work rules and the health care plan were the main issues in dispute. Pickets were set up Monday at several SEPTA depots and other areas, union spokesman Bob Bedard said.

TWU Local 234, which represents about 5,000 employees, is striking with the United Transportation Union Local 1594, which represents about 300 suburban transit employees.

SEPTA said talks broke off because union leaders rejected the agency's health care offer, which would have required employees to pay 5 percent of the premium. Workers currently pay nothing, SEPTA said. The offer included a 9 percent pay increase over three years. Bedard said the union supported a sliding-scale payment system for employees based on their salaries.

The union said its members have not had a raise since December 2003 and have fallen far behind the norm for employees of major transit agencies. The two sides also couldn't agree on pension issues and work rules regarding disciplinary procedures.

The dispute forced Anita Fenning and a friend to make a 40-block trek from South Philadelphia to their jobs downtown. "We've got a long way to go," Fenning said as she rushed to get to work on time.