As residents and businesses in working-class neighborhoods continued to suffer, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's drivers union and management met face to face for the first time in three days Tuesday, but the best they could do was agree to meet again today.
Despite the failure to address meaningful contract issues, the top negotiators for the two sides left the Pasadena Hilton after a 90-minute meeting smiling and shaking hands.
Julian Burke, the MTA's chief executive officer, and James Williams, head of the United Transportation Union, described Tuesday's session as a step in the right direction.
"We are very pleased to be back at the bargaining table," said Williams, whose 4,400-member union walked out of talks and called a strike that began at midnight Friday.
While MTA management and the unions weighed their respective positions, the MTA's 450,000 daily riders--most with no alternative to public transit--struggled to come up with some way of getting around.
With the drivers on strike and members of MTA unions representing mechanics, clerks and supervisors refusing to cross picket lines, the walkout has idled all but a few of the MTA's 2,000 buses, along with the Red Line subway, and Blue Line and Green Line light-rail systems.
Business and residents of the Eastside, Central and South-Central Los Angeles are bearing the brunt of the strike, with shoppers who use mass transit unable to get to stores and workers putting together patchwork commuting schemes. Schools, hit by high absenteeism Monday, reported that attendance was better Tuesday.
Pacific Boulevard in Huntington Park, a commercial stretch considered Los Angeles County's busiest Latino shopping district, is one of the areas being hurt by the strike.
Up and down the half-mile strip of restaurants, clothing stores, music outlets and other shops, merchants said business has been down by 50% since the walkout began.
"Today is even worse than yesterday," said Louis Delgado, manager of a novelty and costume shop. By midafternoon Tuesday, he
said, he had sold $100 worth of merchandise--a fraction of his usual sales.
"I'm looking out at the street and I only see about 30 people walking around," he said. "I guess people are just going to work and then going home. No one wants to find transportation to go shopping."
At the normally chaotic Gallo Giro eatery on the corner of Pacific Boulevard and Florence Avenue, the lines to order plates of tamales, tortas, burritos and carne asada were either nonexistent or composed of only two or three people.
The outdoor tables that are usually filled with customers were all but empty. Only three tables were in use during Tuesday's lunch hour.
Louis Rivera, the assistant manager, said business has dropped at least 50%, most noticeably in the morning, when many customers stop for coffee or a pastry on the way to catch a bus.
"All the people around here stop for a taco or coffee on the way to the bus," he said. "Without the buses, we don't have that."
He worried about the impact the strike could have on his workers, many of whom have been taking taxis to work because of the walkout. Rivera said his workers can't afford to pay for taxis all week.
Over at the Whittier Boulevard shopping district in East Los Angeles, some business owners said their earnings have dropped by about a third since the buses stopped running Saturday.
Chin Chin, who has owned a thrift store on the block for 10 years, said most of her customers are arriving on foot.
"It has been slower," she said while ringing up some hardware items for a customer. "But not too slow."
Still, Chin said, "it would be good for them to finish [negotiations] quickly. One of my workers was an hour late the other day because she couldn't catch a bus."
Up a few blocks, Angelus Hernandez stood inside an empty dress store located behind a now-quiet MTA bus stop. Hernandez said commuters usually head straight toward his window displays as soon as they get off the buses.
"We're not operating too well," he said. "People have no way to get here. Hopefully, this won't last too long."
Crowds did gather at terminals where the buses and trains that are still operating were picking up passengers. The Metrolink commuter trains and eight municipal bus companies are still serving Los Angeles.
Demand for service from Union Station to the Westside was so great that Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus line added six to 10 buses to its downtown Los Angeles express service during peak morning and evening commuting hours.
"They are coming back with standing room only loads," said Cynthia Gibson, a spokeswoman for the Santa Monica bus company. She said buses with seats for 38 passengers were carrying nearly twice that many riders. Eighty or so people were crowding into the larger 51-passenger buses.
She said Union Station was packed with passengers vying for space on the Big Blue Buses. "We can't get enough buses in there," she said.