Cities, U braced for driver strike

A student group devoted to organizing carpools will meet today at Coffman.

Britt Johnsen

A bus strike can legally begin today, leaving 76,200 Metro-area residents without cars scrambling to find a way to get to their destinations.

To combat the problem, a University group dedicated to connecting student commuters from around the Twin Cities will meet today, Friday and Monday.

“We’re commuters getting together to make connections,” said Sam Ero-Phillips, Commuter Connection president.

“We wanted to make a ridesharing program where you will meet with people,” he said.

The group will meet from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Coffman Union. The group meets weekly and hosts many social events.

Ero-Phillips came up with the commuter meeting when he saw the University was not providing any specific programs to deal with the strike, aside from opening carpool lots.

“It’s our obligation,” he said. “We need some kind of support.”

Parking and Transportation Services opened carpool lots this morning. An estimated 14,000 U-Pass and 1,500 Metropass customers from the University have the option to park in the fairgrounds lot in St. Paul or the Buckeye lot on Huron Boulevard, which are operating as carpool lots. Those customers will be able to park in the lots for the carpool rate, $1.75, even if they are traveling alone.

The West Bank Office Building Ramp and the East River Road Garage will also be open to U-Pass and University Metropass users for $5 per day.

University sophomore Dan Henry said he will take advantage of the parking special. He said he uses the bus five days a week and spends two hours a day commuting from Lakeville, Minn.

But he said “the parking costs will be killer.”

University junior Megan Lennon said she will carpool with friends, but she is not happy about the situation.

“I’m disappointed in our governor that he’s not funding mass transit,” she said.

Lennon said if transit becomes a problem for her, she will call Gov. Tim Pawlenty to let him know how she feels.

Meanwhile, first-year student Don Wolkenhauer said even though he relies on the bus to get to campus and work five days a week, he supports the union.

“I would strike, too,” he said. “I totally support the strike.”

University sophomore Erin Coghlan said she will ride her bike. Though she lives on campus and can easily get to classes, she said she needs a mode of transportation to get her to the job that helps pay her tuition.

“I understand why it’s happening but it’s very inconvenient and I’m a little stressed,” she said.

For other students, it could be even more stressful. Junior Michelle Pobar said she uses her U-Pass every day to get from Uptown to the University.

“It’s going to be a huge issue for me,” Pobar said. “I take the bus everywhere and I don’t have a car. I probably will have to miss a lot of my classes.”

The mood is a little lighter for senior Anne-Kristin Thordin, who said she is not worried about the strike.

“I think there will be enough spots for everyone to park in,” she said. “I think we’ll be able to manage.”

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 has been unable to agree with the Metropolitan Council regarding health care and wages issues.

Both parties have said they are not willing to budge. There are no meetings scheduled at this time.

– Molly Moker contributed to this report