U readies bus alternatives

Metro Transit drivers could strike as early as March 2, stranding regular commuters.

Britt Johnsen

A possible Metro Transit strike could force thousands of customers to find alternative transportation as early as March 2.

To help bus riders, the University and the Metropolitan Council are developing transit options.

“People should start planning now,” said Bob Gibbons, Metro Transit spokesman. “Nothing will necessarily happen on the 11th day, but you have to put your mind in that time frame.”

Last week, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 sent a letter of intent to strike to the Metropolitan Council and the Bureau of Mediation Services. The union represents 2,150 employees.

The union is concerned about wages and health care. A 10-day cooling-off period began Tuesday once the letter was sent. They have 20 days to start a strike.

Lori Ann Vicich, marketing manager for Parking and Transportation Services, said the University is working with Metro Transit to open up parking lots to encourage car pooling.

If a strike occurs, the University will open three lots on the Minneapolis campus and the fairgrounds on the St. Paul campus to carpoolers for $1.75 per car. U-Pass customers can park in the Buckeye lot on Huron Boulevard at the carpool rate.

The Metropolitan Council updated their Metro Commuter Services program, which matches people living in the same area who need a ride to a similar area. Program information is available online.

Aside from these options, Vicich said commuters will need to rely on friends and family, and start thinking ahead.

“It’s a tough situation,” she said. “We’re all going to have to work together.”

The situation could affect many of the 220,000 people Metro Transit serves each weekday. Gibbons said approximately 72,600 customers do not have cars.

On Wednesday alone, Metro Transit received 60 phone calls between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m., Gibbons said.

At the University, 14,000 students have U-Passes and 1,500 faculty and staff use the Metropass.

Despite the situation, the University expects attendance to remain the same.

General College Dean David Taylor also said classes will continue as usual.

Vernon Weckwerth, a healthcare management professor, would be flexible with students’ attendance and deal with problems as they arise.

“If they couldn’t make it, they couldn’t make it,” he said.

Paul Moore, a University spokesman, said there is no policy regarding student and faculty attendance during a strike.

Architecture professor Leon Satkowski said missing class and exams is always a problem but has not thought about a plan if a strike affects attendance.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.

Some students are pondering possible bridges to cross.

Student Brie Zillhardt uses the U-Pass daily. She will have to drive, but it will be more expensive.

Students will not be the only ones affected, however. University employees also rely on the bus.

“I can drive if I have to,” said Megan Whittet, a Boynton Health Service employee who said it would be expensive for her to drive. “I don’t like to.”

Metro Transit serves 20 percent of downtown St. Paul employees and 40 percent of downtown Minneapolis employees. Therefore, the Metropolitan Council asked the union to give at least two weeks’ notice to its customers before striking.

Ronald Lloyd, the union’s president, said the 17-member union board will meet Tuesday at a monthly meeting to discuss whether they will set a strike date.

Until then, Metro Transit riders will await further discussions.

Eugenia Smith, College of Liberal Arts communications director, does not think there will be problems with faculty and student attendance because they are responsible enough to start thinking about alternatives.

“I’m already thinking of people in my neighborhood who need rides,” Smith said. “I think that’s what people do in a time like this. Those of us who are wasting resources by driving alone need to reach out.”