They say no new news is good news — but not in the case of a SEPTA strike. Despite negotiating past midnight, the transit agency and its union representing 4,700 striking workers could not hammer out a deal.
That means another day of commuting chaos, as the riders who would normally travel by bus, subway and trolley instead hit the roads by car, bicycle and foot. On Tuesday, the strike’s first day, that resulted in delays of an hour or more on trains, with a surge in passengers on Regional Rail lines, and massive congestion on the roadways.
And if a deal comes today, it probably won’t come early. On Tuesday, SEPTA negotiators didn’t sit down with Transport Workers Union Local 234 representatives until after 5 p.m., and the union immediately rejected SEPTA’s first proffer of the day. After that, both sides felt progress was being made, with talks occurring mainly through the state mediator.
Just after 1 a.m. this morning, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch issued this statement: “SEPTA and TWU Local 234 continue to make steady progress in the effort to reach an agreement on a new contract. Tonight’s negotiations have concluded, and talks are expected to resume in the morning. Due to the union strike, City Transit Division services remain suspended until further notice.”
The last SEPTA strike, in 2009, lasted six days. This strike is workers’ 12th since 1975. U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Philadelphia, helped resolve the 2009 strike, and he joined talks Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in Center City, where negotiations took place.
SEPTA’s buses, trolleys and subways typically provide about 900,000 rides a day.
While you might think Day Two of the strike will mean less crowds and congestion as commuters figure out their backup travel plans, today could actually be worse than Tuesday: Area Catholic schools were off yesterday for All Saints Day, and they’re back to class today. That’s 144 schools in five counties.
Traffic already was bumper to bumper on Interstate 676 by 6:15 a.m. this morning.
Also threatening smooth travel: Picketers blocked access to some facilities where Regional Rail train crews report to work near Wayne Junction during Tuesday’s evening rush hour, so SEPTA suspended service on some lines. But the transit agency got a court injunction to allow employees to report to work, which should solve that problem today.
TWU members are being sent out to numerous locations around the city to keep the pressure on SEPTA.
— lil yenta (@mindyisser) November 2, 2016
Indego, the bike-sharing program, has added bikes and expanded bike parking at stations throughout Center City to accommodate the surge in people pedaling to get around.
“Feet, don’t fail me now,” commuter John Federico tweeted this morning, as he walked from 69th Street Transportation Center to 36th and Chestnut streets. That’s a distance of about four miles.
In a city famous for its “Philly Shrug,” the strike brought some people together. On Facebook, a group called SEPTA Strike Carpool Coordination aims to connect commuters to share rides.
If no agreement is reached before Election Day, SEPTA officials said they would seek another injunction to restore service on that day “to ensure that the strike does not prevent any voters from getting to the polls and exercising their right to vote.”
Union officials said they’ll work “around the clock” to end the strike.
“We know the inconvenience caused for workers and businesses when transit isn’t running. That’s why we’re ready to meet for as long as necessary to settle this dispute. When SEPTA is ready to stop stalling and start talking, we’re confident we can reach a fair agreement,” the union said in a statement issued Tuesday night by spokeswoman Jamie Horwitz.
Here’s what union officials say are holding up a deal:
* Scheduling issues, specifically sudden switches between day and night shifts, inadequate lunch and bathroom breaks, and occasional back-to-back shifts that don’t give workers enough time to sleep and commute between shifts.
* Pension reform to ensure a “fair and well-funded” pension plan. Workers contribute more to their pension plan than SEPTA managers, yet receive bigger payouts, the union charges. TWA officials want to consolidate all SEPTA retirement plans into a single fund to save on administrative costs, without further taxpayer contributions, they say.
Frustration was the theme of the morning at Suburban Station, where Roselle Dixon fumed over train troubles.
“I got on the train from Lansdale to Jefferson Station. (But) they put us off the train at Suburban Station. Very little direction; everybody’s up in the station, wandering around, trying to figure out how they get the train to go further into the city,” Dixon said.
Dane Scott doesn’t work for SEPTA. But because he was at Suburban Station and wears a yellow vest for work, he was the go-to guy for confused commuters looking for clarity.
“I’m frustrated with the whole SEPTA situation,” Scott said. “I think that SEPTA workers are acting real selfish right now, because lot of people got to get to work and stuff. Kids got to get to school and everything.”
Robin Hicks of Olney was one of the few commuters this morning who reported no train troubles – only because she crawled out of bed before the birds began singing to start her day. Her advice for commuters already weary of the strike: Stagger your work hours.
“Get off the 9 to 5 shift,” Hicks said. “I’m going to do the 6-to-2 to get off the 9-to-5 so the lines aren’t as long.”
Commuters also vented directly to SEPTA on their Facebook page.
“Thanks a lot Septa!!!!” Keana Jones wrote. “My toddler was supposed to start preschool today and I can’t get to work either, not to mention I won’t get paid. I have no way to get to work! And my job is going to charge me AWOL for not being there because it’s my responsibility to get to work! EVEN THOUGH I HAVE NO WAY TO GET THERE! So thank you very much Septa! I am a single mom of a 3 yr old with no help from anyone, I don’t have money to pay for cabs and Uber like some people and I cannot afford to be out from work with no pay with the possibility of getting fired! I heard that Septa doesn’t even have to pay for medical, do you know how much money is taken from most of our checks for medical?! It’s not fair that we all have to suffer because Septa wants to try to strike every 5 mins!”
On Tuesday morning, students’ attendance at the Community College of Philadelphia was down by as much as 50 percent during morning classes, thanks to the strike, according to the college. Only three students showed up for assistant professor Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela’s morning English class Tuesday, for example, so she took them out for coffee to discuss the class reading. Another professor, Faye Allard, got creative in trying to teach her students: She recorded her lectures so that students could watch them remotely on their smartphones. And English professor Julie Odell created a Facebook page to organize carpools for her students.
The community college’s attendance similarly sagged today: General course attendance ranged from 25 to 60 percent today, according to Dr. Samuel Hirsch, vice president of academic and student success.
Meanwhile, ride-sharing businesses were booming. Uber reported a 41 percent jump in unique riders during rush hours this week, compared to last week, while Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison said Lyft’s ridership spiked 46 percent from Monday to Tuesday, the first day of the strike.
That growth wasn’t without grousing though: Many commuters weren’t happy with the pricing surges – two to three times higher than normal – that accompanied that increased demand.
“Uber is conspiring with the universe to take all my money,” tweeted Jen Dionisio, who works at the Curtis Institute of Music. “They want $26 for a shared ride. Oh hell no.”
What’s not operating: SEPTA city bus routes, trolley routes 10, 11, 13, 15, 34 and 36, the Market-Frankford Line and Broad Street Line
What is operating: SEPTA Regional Rail Lines,the Norristown High Speed Line, Trolley Routes 101 and 102 and Suburban bus routes, CCT, LUCY, and Routes 204, 205, 310 and Cornwells Heights Parking Shuttle.
Check SEPTA’s guide for service interruptions here.
This is an ongoing story. Check back with us at NewsWorks.org for updates.