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Transit users told to prepare for strike

| Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008

Tom Galluze drives to work in Homestead each day, but he says businesses dependent on Port Authority of Allegheny County and fear an autumn strike should look into a sound alternative -- school buses.

"If there's a need, I'm thinking these buses are available," said Galluze, 56, of Scott, who works for Allegheny Intermediate Unit. "It's just a suggestion, something to think about, (and) it's certainly not a bad idea to look at every option, that's for sure."

Looking at options topped the agenda Wednesday during a workshop on how to prepare for a possible public-transit shutdown. Sponsored by Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the session instructed: Don't panic; plan.

Businesses might need to prepare for a possible strike or service cutbacks before mid-September, when Port Authority and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 must accept or reject a fact-finder's findings about ongoing contract talks.

In the event of a strike, businesses could stagger work shifts, encourage employees to telecommute, or require those with company-issued parking permits to carpool with co-workers, said Ken Zapinski, senior vice president of transportation and infrastructure for the Allegheny Conference.

"We don't have one solution. We don't think there's one solution out there," Zapinski told an audience of about 200 business leaders. "We encourage companies to be flexible."

"This is really a great opportunity for you to think about how your employees get to work," said Mike Edwards, president of Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

The Allegheny Conference and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership revealed a new Web site -- www.KeepPittsburghMoving.com .

Megan Lindsey knows how she plans to get to work if a transit strike happens, and she encourages others to do the same.

"I would suggest (to) anyone that possibly can -- bike to work," said Lindsey, 27, who pedals from her Lawrenceville home to the Downtown hot dog shop that she co-owns. "We love it. We think it's a great way to get some exercise."

It won't be unusual to see people turning to bikes as an alternative to buses or light rail, said Louis Fineberg, a consultant with the group Bike Pittsburgh. Bike traffic could increase if structures, such as the Wabash Tunnel, would be opened to bicyclists. People could "bikepool" in large numbers for increased safety, Fineberg said.

Dealing with vehicles could be a bigger headache. Some 40,000 people use public transit to commute Downtown; however, Downtown and four surrounding neighborhoods have fewer than 3,300 available parking spaces on any given day, Zapinski said.

"There would be parking for about 3,300 of the 40,000 additional cars," Zapinski said. "So, then you'd have the other 37,000 cars, and you'd ask, 'What do we do with them?' "

The odds of Port Authority's biggest union going on strike remain unclear.

A Port Authority spokesman said the agency is "continuing to work toward reaching a contract that is fair, not only for management and ATU Local 85, but for the taxpayers as well." He declined further comment.

The union is permitted to ask its members to vote whether to strike but cannot initiate a strike until after the fact-finding process is completed. The union has not indicated, so far, that it intends to strike. Union officials did not return calls seeking comment.

"We're hopeful that it won't go on to a strike ... but the two sides are very far apart," Zapinski said.

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