New Yorkers face triple-header transit strike 'chins up'

Despite three transit strikes -- by 33,000 city bus and subway workers, by another 33,000 Long Island Railroad employees, and by operators of four private bus lines here -- New York City fared better April 1 than many had predicted.

Car pools became the rule, not the exception, for commuters. Mayor Edward Koch banned automobiles with fewer than two occupants from Manhattan south of 96 th Street, and commuters responded to the challenge: Cars filled with four, five , and six passengers plied their way into the city.

People were grabbing just about anything that had wheels, sails, an engine, or wings to get to work. A 90-foot catamaran was scheduled to ferry passengers from 90th Street and the East River to Pier 11 off Manhattan Island's Wall Street section. Some predicted that if the strike lasted for any significant length of time, there would be more sailboats in New York Harbor than during Operation Sail in 1976.

The US Postal Service used 52 military buses and more than 20 mail trucks to take many of its employees from post office branches near their homes to branches where they work.

The Island Helicopter Company said it would run helicopter shuttle service between a shopping center in Garden City, Long Island, and Wall Street heliports. Round trip -- hang on to your wallet -- $70. Limousine services were booked to capacity, with their sleek luxury cars plying the maze of Manhattan streets as if they were in town for a limousine convention.

Walking no longer was relegated to a recreational activity. Hikers, often three and four abreast, strode over the Brooklyn Bridge's narrow pedestrian walkway like so many troops on parade.

Easing the April 1 traffic crush somewhat was the fact that it was a Jewish holiday in observance of Passover.

No one here was underestimating the difficulties posed by the trio of work stoggages -- complicated Tuesday morning by a "rule book" slowdown by some bridge and tunnel tollbooth workers.

Mayor Koch, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which runs the city's bus and subway lines, and others anticipated a long negotiating process to resolve wage and work-rule issues with the members of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) of Greater New York, an AFL-CIO affiliate, which represents bus and subway workers.

The negotiating process between the MTA and the TWU failed to avert a walkout at 2 a.m. April 1. By 5 a.m. the streets of upper Manhattan and arteries in other city boroughs were already jammed with automobiles coming into the city from the suburbs.

"It's painful," Mayor Koch said. "But the city has to go on, and the city administration will do everything possible to see that the pain is reduced."

While Mr. Koch and other public officials feel that their plans to cope with the strike will avert both total transportation chaos and economic collapse, the mayor's office of management and budget forecasts that the strike will cost private businesses alone $140 million a day in lost receipts.

The transit authority went to court April 1 to get a court order fining the TWU approximately two days' pay for each day every worker doesn't show up to work. But judging from past experience, observers here say that union officials probably will not heed any such court order and will seek some form of "amnesty" in the event that wage and work-rule issues are settled.

There are conflicting opinions over how long the strike will last. Some say a "cooling-off period" is necessary. Others argue negotiators should stay at the bargaining table and try to iron out differences immediately.

As of this writing, differences of opinion over wages was the most critical issue separating the MTA and TWU, which represents some 31,000 of the city's more than 33,000 bus and subway workers. Reportedly, union bargainers have sliced their original wage demand in half, asking for a 15 percent a year increase. The MTA reportedly had offered 6 percent a year for two years.

The strike against the Long Island Railroad is also mainly over wages, and some union leaders declared it would take a long time to come up with an acceptable "money package."

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