PHILADELPHIA – Commuters who rely on the city's buses, subways and trolleys were forced to walk, hitch rides and take taxis to work Monday after thousands of city transit workers went on strike.
In a city where one in three households lacks a car, about 920,000 trips are taken on a typical weekday along the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (search) lines shut down by the strike.
Carol Bridges, 51, was walking from her home in South Philadelphia (search) to her job as a secretary downtown. "I don't like it, but it's good exercise," she said. "It's not going to be good if we have bad weather."
City preparations for the strike included setting up extra bicycle racks, stationing more officers at intersections, encouraging car pooling and allowing more parking.
Early indications were that most students and teachers were getting to the city's schools, with many walking, using regional rail lines, taking car pools or being driven by parents, said Vincent Thompson, a district spokesman. About 27,000 of the district's 185,000 students receive free or subsidized transit tokens.
"Philadelphians are very creative people and I know they will adjust and adapt and get to work and get to school," Thompson said.
Commuter rails remained in service since those employees have a different union contract.
Members of Transport Workers Union Local 234 (search) have not had a raise since December 2003. SEPTA is the fifth-largest transit agency in the country but workers' wages rank 20th, according to TWU president Jeff Brooks.
The last Philadelphia transit strike, in 1998, lasted 40 days.
Negotiations broke off around midnight Sunday. The two sides couldn't reach agreement on health care, pension issues and disciplinary rules.
No new talks were scheduled between SEPTA and TWU Local 234, which represents about 5,000 employees, said union spokesman Bob Bedard. United Transportation Union Local 1594 (search), which represents about 300 suburban transit employees, is also on strike.
SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney 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, he said.
Union leaders also rejected a 9 percent pay increase over three years, Maloney said. Union spokesman Bob Bedard said the union supported a sliding-scale payment system for employees based on their salaries.
"They did offer the raise with one hand and then withdrew it with the other hand," Bedard said. "Under their health care proposal, if you or your spouse or kid ended up having to go to the hospital for five days, you'd spend your whole raise."
Soon after the strike was called, about 40 union members began picketing at the Comly depot in Northeast Philadelphia.
Before striking, the union had agreed to three extensions of the contract that expired June 15. Operations have continued since then under the terms of that contract.