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Riding out the strike

With bus service curtailed, commuters in Orange County are finding novel ways to cope.

July 11, 2007

'WE FEEL VERY much for our passengers," an official with Teamsters Local 952 told The Times as the Orange County bus strike heated up this week, "but it's not about them." Of course, for the working people who make up the vast bulk of Orange County transit riders, the strike is very much about them, and they're coping with the interruption of service in ways bus passengers know well: cooperation, entrepreneurship and long, lonely walks.

For all the hardship the strike is inflicting on the 225,000 customers of the O.C. Transportation Authority, there is a bright spot in the variety of methods some are using to stay mobile. Borrowed cars, bicycles, employer carpools and makeshift taxi services are being pushed into service to make up for the loss of about 60% of county bus service.

This kind of scrounging for transportation is hardly unique. Los Angeles witnessed the same kind of thing during its 2000 MTA strike. But it's noteworthy that so many of the alternative transit providers are folks normally viewed with disdain by advocates for the common good: unlicensed cab drivers, raiteros branching out from transporting migrant laborers, ordinary citizens with cars who see a chance to make a buck.

Riders faced with spending nearly half a day's pay to get to work may have little sympathy for longtime bus drivers who are striking for a larger share of a new pay increase. The drivers have a strong case for better wages, but the strike-coping is a reminder that transit doesn't exist to service drivers, administrators or politicians. It's there to transport customers, and if the Teamsters don't provide that service, somebody else will.

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