December 16, 2005

New Yorkers weigh options in case of transit strike

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Yorkers dodged the proverbial
bullet on Friday when a threatened subway and bus strike did
not materialize, but without a contract settlement with transit
workers the specter of a paralyzing shutdown still weighed

"I will have to take the whole family in a car," musician
Noah Bless said about strict car-pooling rules requiring four
passengers that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is imposing for midtown
Manhattan traffic in the event of a transit strike.

"I'll take my wife to work, my 7-year-old kid to school and
if we put our 2-month-old in the car, we'll have four," he

The union called a partial strike on two small bus lines on
Friday after its three-year-contract expired. It threatened to
expand the action to a mass walkout, however, that could strand
millions of commuters and jam the streets of the most populous
U.S. city.

Many among New York's massive work force were plotting
strategies on how to cope. The system carries 7 million riders
a day.

From working at home to sharing a ride, or from moving in
with a friend to using sick days, people began facing up to a
possible transportation disruption that Bloomberg said could
cost the city as much as $400 million a day.

Alan Hilfer, director of psychology at Maimonides Medical
Center, said New Yorkers face increased stress as they ride out
the labor crisis.

"The one thing we all depend upon is the routine," said
Hilfer. "We geared for the strike and awoke this morning to a
nonstriker situation, but find ourselves in a state of flux
once again because of the ongoing talks."

Nevertheless, alternative modes of transportation did not
seem to stir much interest on Friday.

At Motorsports, a store that sells scooters, there was no
surge in Vespa shopping. "Just the usual interest from
messengers and Chinese food delivery guys," a salesman said.

The manager of Toga Bikes, John Keoshgerian, said there was
only a slight uptick in queries about bike prices at his
Lincoln Center neighborhood store, but not much action.

"It hasn't gotten serious yet," said Keoshgerian, who
admitted to mixed feelings about profiting from a strike.

"I don't like it when people are behind the 8-ball," he
said. "But as a businessman, I'll have to sell whatever I can."

Rollerblades and skateboards were not flying off the
shelves at Blades on 72nd Street. "Today was normal," said
sales clerk Christopher Martin. "Maybe next week."

Plenty of people turned to a remedy that was not available
during the city's last major transit strike in 1980 -- the

Craig's List, a site where people advertise for apartments,
jobs, dates and the like, quickly filled up with listings
seeking carpool arrangements.

Being New York, of course, the ads had a certain splash of
attitude. One contributor's request was so specific -- she
wanted only a female, nonsmoking driver in a car with no animal
hair to drive her around for far less than the cost of a taxi
-- that she prompted the ire of another contributor.

"Are you for real?" the anonymous contributor responded.
"Lady, you take the crown today."

(additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst)