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November 01, 2016

SEPTA transit workers go on strike

All city bus, subway and trolley service halted

Commuters who depend on SEPTA's buses, subways and trolleys will need to find a new mode of transportation on Tuesday.

Transport Workers Union Local 234 went out on strike at midnight Tuesday after negotiators failed to hammer out a new contract, halting Philadelphia's buses, subways and trolleys for the indefinite future. The strike forces hundreds of thousands of commuters to find alternate ways to work and school.

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SEPTA and Local 234 negotiated up until the 12:01 a.m. strike deadline but failed to reach a deal. Negotiators had worked to close a divide on several issues, including contributions to pensions and health insurance.

At midnight, Local 234 President Willie Brown released a statement acknowledging that union members would not report for their shifts on Tuesday. Instead, they will head to picket duty. 

“Despite months of constructive and innovative proposals from our side of the table, management has refused to budge on key issues, including safety issues that would save lives and not cost SEPTA a dime," Brown said. "There is no new agreement, so we are on strike.”

SEPTA also released a statement saying the transit authority had "worked tirelessly for months" to reach a new contract agreement. It decried the strike as a "severely disruptive work stoppage."

"The decision by TWU President Willie Brown leaves thousands of SEPTA customers without the transit services they rely on for travel to-and-from work, school and medical appointments," the statement read. "In doing so, Mr. Brown walked away from a contract offer that would have provided his members pay raises, enhanced pension benefits, maintained health care coverage levels and continued job security, while also remaining fair and affordable for the taxpayers and riders who fund SEPTA."

During a post-midnight press conference, Brown said negotiations around work rules, including scheduling and bathroom breaks, were among issues creating an impasse.

"We're pretty far apart," he said. "I'm not optimistic" about reaching a deal overnight Tuesday.

He did say, however, that TWU negotiators would return to the bargaining table in the wee hours. 

SEPTA said negotiators are optimistic a tentative agreement can be reached before Election Day on Nov. 8.

Meanwhile, thousands of commuters are now stuck looking for alternate options.

Indego, the city's bike share program, will increase bike capacity at four Center City locations and offer valet service to the Municipal Services Building. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia anticipates more commuters traveling by bike than normal.

Uber expanded its pool service to help commuters, too. Previously limited to the suburbs, the carsharing company could be a viable option to anyone living west close to Reading, Pennsylvania, east to Trenton and south to Wilmington and other parts of New Castle County.

Zipcar, a car-sharing service that allows drivers to rent cars by the hour, also announced discounted prices. Usually close to $9 per hour, the service announced that some cars would be bumped down to $5 per hour.

City offices, schools and businesses are expected to remain open Tuesday, but Philadelphia's roadways are expected to be heavily congested during rush-hour commutes. Prior transit strikes, in both 2005 and 2009, gridlocked Center City.

Mayor Jim Kenney issued a statement early Tuesday morning urging Local 234 to continue negotiating, despite the strike. He urged residents to have patience until an agreement can be reached.

“We expect that traffic will be greatly impacted, so make alternate travel arrangements as soon you are able, including carpooling, walking and biking," Kenney said. "Check with your employer about the possibility of a flexible work schedule to avoid the rush hours. And please — check on elderly neighbors who rely on SEPTA for trips to the grocery store or doctor. This period won’t be easy, but by pulling together as a community, we can lessen the difficulties for everyone.”

Local 234 represents about 5,700 SEPTA employees. About 4,700 of them are out on strike. Their walkout shuts down the Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, all city bus routes and six trolley routes — 10, 11, 13, 15, 34 and 36.

Daily weekday ridership on the Market-Frankford and the Broad Street lines — the two most popular transit routes — averages 311,660 rides. The six impacted trolley routes average an additional 83,477 rides. The city's buses add tens of thousands more riders impacted by the strike.

Regional Rail trains, the Norristown High Speed Line, suburban buses and trolley routes 101 and 102 will remain operational. But the absence of the city's buses, subways and trolleys will pose a hectic commute for many commuters on those service lines.

"This will create extreme hardships for the city and for businesses," Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement early Tuesday morning. "I have spoken at length with both sides and I continue to urge them to come together and continue talking until a compromise is reached."

SEPTA released a "Service Interruption Guide" last week to help affected riders.

Regional Rail looms as an option for some riders, but SEPTA warned that space will be limited. Riders who board trains at Temple, Jefferson, Suburban, 30th Street and University City stations will be forced to form lines on the concourse level between 2:45 and 7 p.m., an effort to avoid overcrowded platforms.

For city employees, free shuttles will be available along the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines. All city employees are expected to maintain their typical work hours or use accrued leave time to cover any absences.

School District of Philadelphia students who rely on SEPTA for transportation will receive an excused absence, but a note from a parent or guardian is necessary. Yellow bus service will continue operating its normal schedule, but some delays might occur.

Several universities and major employers have released contingency plans.

The University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Penn Health Services and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia released a joint contingency plan that provides shuttle service to employees and students. Temple University also plans to operate shuttle services.