SEPTA strike view from the driver’s seat

SEPTA management and union representatives continue negotiating over pensions and health care benefits as they try to hammer out a new contract.

Striking drivers, who have halted most of the city’s public transportation system, say they are also seeking changes in their working conditions.

“People overdose, we’ve had people leave their needles on a bus, we’ve had people relieve themselves on the vehicle,” said Andre Jones, a SEPTA bus driver for 27 years. “We’ve had nosebleeds on the bus. Whenever there’s blood, you can’t have that vehicle on the street. It’s a hazard.

Jones, who was picketing Thursday outside the SEPTA depot in South Philadelphia, said he wants to see some relaxation in the strict rules governing how he is able to interact with his passengers.

“There are a lot of things we’re not allowed to do that you don’t know about,” said Jones. “If I stop and service a bus stop, once I pull away, if the bus is moving, I can’t stop for you. The riding public doesn’t know that.

“My rule is that I can’t stop for you.”

Jones also said that he — unlike most other professionals — can’t use the bathroom whenever he wants, because he is obligated to be in the driver’s seat on a schedule.

Many drivers on the picket lines had similar concerns, saying SEPTA rules impair their ability to do their job safely, comfortably and effectively.

Taron Caine, a driver for three years, said he is responsible for the safety of the bus and its passengers, but must rely on riders to resolve their own conflicts.

“You got a lot of personalities on the bus. People argue with other passengers on the bus,” said Caine. “You don’t have the power to do or say too much. So you hope the public polices itself.”

While on strike, drivers are not being paid — not by SEPTA, not by the union — and their health care benefits disappear. The 4,700 striking workers will have no coverage until an agreement is reached.

“It’s not being able to continue to provide for my family,” said Earl Bond, a driver with five children. “It’s a struggle — but some things are for the better good.”

Negotiators for SEPTA management said they have acquiesced to the union’s most significant demands.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.