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Workers Face Nuisance of MTA Strike

Commuting: People who ordinarily travel by bus from Los Angeles to east county jobs seek alternatives.


THOUSAND OAKS — Scores of east county residents were inconvenienced Monday, the first weekday after a Los Angeles County transit strike ended service throughout the region, including a bus that stops twice in this city.

In addition, nearly 700 Ventura County residents who take Metrolink trains into the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere in Los Angeles had to find another way to their jobs when they arrived at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and found their regular buses weren't running.

The transit strike, which centers on wages and overtime hours, started Saturday; officials announced Monday that both sides would meet today to discuss returning to the bargaining table.

MTA officials estimate that about 80 commuters get on and off one of their buses in the Thousand Oaks area each weekday. MTA's Line 161 is primarily a local service--people ride to destinations in Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Woodland Hills and Canoga Park, said Philip Aker, supervising transportation planner for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, or LADOT.

Though the MTA bus was not in service, a similar route is followed by a bus operated by LADOT, which is not part of the strike. Commuters can take LADOT's Commuter Express to locations that include the Warner Center, a major business destination in the San Fernando Valley. But because the routes are not exactly the same, riders might have to walk long distances, officials cautioned.

Aker said the strike would mainly affect those who live in downtown Los Angeles and work in the Thousand Oaks area, because many of them don't have cars. And because some LADOT buses are already running full, they would probably have problems accepting MTA riders, he said.

Alba Ortez of downtown Los Angeles, who cleans homes five days a week in Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village, is one of those who relies on the bus for her livelihood. She said the MTA strike could cripple her ability to get to her employers.

"I need the work, but if no bus, no come [to work]," said the 39-year-old mother of five, as she waited at a bus station at The Oaks shopping mall about 2 p.m. Monday.

Ortez's husband, a plumber who works long, unpredictable hours, needs the family car every day. So, on Monday morning he drove her to Ventura County--at 5:30 a.m.--but he couldn't pick her up and couldn't guarantee her a ride any other day this week.

Ortez said she knew the LADOT bus would get her to Santa Monica, but she wasn't sure what to do after that. She was resigned to walking the rest of the way, if she had to.

When Commuter Express driver Grady Esked pulled up to the stop, Ortez hopped on and was given good news: Esked's route goes down to Figueroa Street, close to Ortez's home. But his route isn't identical to the MTA system, and Ortez would still have to learn the alternate schedule for the morning commute.

Esked figured that if the strike continues through the week, his passenger load will get progressively heavier, with increasing complaints and confusion.

"It's already given us more of a workload," he said. "I'm going to get a lot of feedback."

LADOT spokesman Aker said his agency may try to increase the number of buses on its routes to absorb some of the extra passengers.

"We would be a good option for some people, but because our routing is different, it might work better for one direction than for the other," he said.

The strike may affect drivers as well as bus commuters because more cars will crowd onto the already traffic-choked freeways, increasing the commute time between Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

An estimated 5,000 people drive to work in Los Angeles from Ventura County, according to a 1997 survey by the Southern California Assn. of Governments, a regional metropolitan planning organization. Although traffic could increase along local freeways, many commuters said Monday they did not notice much of a difference.

Bob Aptaker, vice president of a shopping mall development company, carpools from Thousand Oaks to his Santa Monica office, which is a 45-minute commute on an average day. When he learned about the strike this weekend, he decided it was better to be safe than sorry. Instead of leaving at 6:30 a.m., he left at 6.

Traffic "started out a little heavier than normal, but I don't think in the end our commute time was any worse than usual," he said.

He plans to continue leaving early until the strike is over.

Mary Travis, regional program manager for the Ventura County Transportation Commission, said she expects there will be more cars on the Ventura Freeway, especially as drivers get closer to the Valley and downtown Los Angeles. She said she will commute to downtown Los Angeles on Friday and she's considering traveling the night before and staying with her mother in order to avoid heavy traffic.

"I wonder if people who have friends or relatives might go ahead and stay a couple nights down there instead of fighting the freeways," she said.


Blake is a Times correspondent; Talev is a Times staff writer.

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