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AC Transit buses may stop running Wednesday in the midst of workers’ contract negotiations. Photo: Camille Baptista

By Camille Baptista

AC Transit workers are preparing to strike at midnight if their contract demands are not met, forcing riders to scramble to find other ways to get around.

The members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, which represents 1,625 AC Transit bus operators and mechanics, have been working without a contract since July 1. The current sticking points in contract negotiations are wages and health care costs.

If workers walk off the job, 181,000 daily passengers will need to find alternative methods of transportation.

“If they go on strike, it’ll be hard for those people to get to school,” said Conan Teo, a UC Berkeley student. He knows of many fellow students who live far from campus and whose commutes will probably lengthen if they have to walk or ride bikes. “Everybody has to wake up a little earlier,” he said.

Teo said he was also concerned for physically disabled people, for whom walking or biking might not be an option.

Pondi Das, 85, rode the bus Tuesday morning to attend a doctor’s appointment.

“I just gave up my car. I’m totally reliant on this,” he said of the buses.

If the bus becomes unavailable, Das said he will turn to the city’s Taxi Scrip program, which provides coupon-like paper money that can be used to pay for taxis. All seniors over 80 are eligible for Taxi Scrip, in addition to disabled people and some lower-income seniors aged 70-79.

Aleph Ayan, who was waiting for AC Transit buses on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Allston Way on Tuesday, uses the bus to get to work. He said they would walk or bike if necessary.

Charlie Shaw, who works in downtown Berkeley and rides the bus regularly, said he will probably walk to work if the buses stop running. Although he only lives about a mile away, he thinks the strike will impact a lot of the regular riders who come from farther away.

When BART workers went on strike in the beginning of July, closing a commuter thoroughfare up and down the East Bay and to San Francisco, AC Transit remained running and provided an alternative for many BART riders. The buses were often overcrowded until the BART strike ended.

BART workers had threatened to walk out again on Monday, but Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a panel to investigate the negotiations and report back to him in a week. BART workers are not legally allowed to strike during that time.

However, once the report is completed, BART workers could go out on strike, raising the possibility of the shutdown of two major transit operations at the same time.

After weeks of negotiations, AC Transit workers say they are prepared to follow in the footsteps of BART employees. According to the union website, union workers want a higher wage increase than what the district has proposed. The district also wants workers to begin contributing 10 percent of their health care premiums, where before they did not contribute.

A strike “would not be good,” AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Certainly it would mean we would not be able to operate service. We have about 181,000 passengers a day so that would mean that 181,000 people would be without their usual public transportation service.”

Camille Baptista is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She grew up in Berkeley and now studies at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

Related:
BART strike appears to have modest impact in Berkeley (07.01.13)
BART on strike Monday: commuters seek alternative options (07.01.13)

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