Going Nowhere: Transit Workers’ Strike Immobilizes City

After scouring travel sites for hours, I finally found a great deal—the flight would land at the Oakland Airport (OAK) in the San Francisco Bay Area at a reasonable hour and, more importantly, the ticket was significantly cheaper than flights landing at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

But before making the booking, however, I decided to call the airport helpline and see what would be the best way for me to get from OAK to SFO, where I would be meeting the rest of the wedding party. The woman I spoke to told me that in order to avoid the high taxi or shuttle fares, I should to take the cheap and convenient Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train.

“Oh but they’re actually on strike!” she warned me before hanging up. She had no idea how much longer the union workers would keep BART shut down for. So that was the deal breaker. I wasn’t willing to take the risk of whether the union would end its strike in time for my arrival or hold out for 10 whole years. If it weren’t for the strike, my debit card would have been spared $100.

Workers represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) voted with an overwhelming majority to shut down BART on Monday July 1st, 2013 in the hopes of gaining concessions in a new contract that would replace the expired one. The unions demanded an annual 5 percent increase in pay for the next three years and rejected BART management’s offer of a 2 percent annual increase for the next four years.

The 2,400 strikers did manage to have an impact, but more so on commuters than on their negotiations. BART is the 5th largest public transport system in the United States, extending over 104 miles of lines, and an estimated 400,000 people ride it daily; for the days during the strike, commuters were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeways, dealt with over-crowded standing-room only spaces on ferry boats, and waited in line for hours to catch a bus.

BART spokesman Rick Rice expressed his disappointment that workers chose to strike despite the fact that the transit system’s management was willing to negotiate. In a statement published on BART’s website, Rice states “we are sorry peoples’ lives have been disrupted by the union strike. This strike is not necessary and we call on union leaders to end it and join us at the table so the Bay Area can get moving again.”

The delays and disruptions prompted by the strike weighed heavily on the city. According to estimates made by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute:

…the daily economic cost to the Bay Area of the BART union strike [is] at $73 million a day, as the region reels from the loss of the most critical mass transit system. The figure includes only the cost of lost worker productivity, and doesn’t include the cost of overall lost economic activity.

Though it is too late to change my reservation, the strike did end last Friday at 3 pm. So aside from economic costs, what were the strike’s outcomes? Nothing. No agreement was reached, no new proposals were made. Instead, workers decided to return to work under a 30-day extension of their old contract.

So, for those of you who plan to travel to San Francisco in 30 days, I advise that you take the direct route.