Wednesday, August 27, 2003

In front of Kapalama Elementary School, across Kamehameha Shopping Center in Kalihi yesterday, Catalina Dela Cruz signed a waiver as Mayor Jeremy Harris smiled. The mayor shuttled stranded commuters to town.

Honolulu commuters
muddle along in strike

With more drivers on the road,
rush hour gets a head start
as residents find alternatives

City officials say rush hour traffic is lasting up to an hour and a half longer because of a citywide bus strike.

Morning rush hour yesterday started at 5 a.m. instead of 6 a.m., while evening rush started at 3 p.m. instead of 4:30 p.m. on the first day of the walkout, according to city Transportation Services Director Cheryl Soon. She said more cars are on the road and motorists are leaving earlier to get where they need to go.

Commuters said the added cars on the road made the drive to work around 30 minutes longer.

"Things went pretty smoothly as a whole given what we had to work with," said Soon. "Really better than one could expect."

"We're glad that people are trying to help each other out."

"I give credit to the people for adjusting their travel time," said state Highways Administrator Glenn Yasui. "I hope they continue to do so during the period of the strike."

Masses of cars flooded UH Manoa on the first day of the strike by TheBus workers. Here, a student walked through a temporary parking lot on the lawn of Bachman Hall.

No new talks are scheduled to resolve the strike.

"They have to pick up the phone and they have to come forward and start acting rationally and responsibly," said Perry Confalone, chief negotiator for Oahu Transit Services, the private company that runs the bus system.

"When you're ready to withdraw your cutbacks, then you call us," countered Mel Kahele, the Teamsters local president, who said the union was prepared to stay off the job for as long as three months.

By van, bicycle or on foot, for the most part, commuters appeared to be coping with the strike.

The city set up an elaborate van system to help people get to work. Mayor Jeremy Harris and top city officials were among those driving commuters this morning.

However, there were still a few kinks to work out in the city's contingency plans.

Vaimoana Lopaki, a security guard and part-time student, caught a ride in a city van traveling from Chinatown to Ala Moana to Waikiki to Manoa and back but did not realize that the van could only stop at designated areas, such as the Honolulu Zoo on Kapahulu Avenue.

"Sorry, we have to stick to the rules," said volunteer van driver Benildo Anagaran. "I don't want to get busted."

Regarding the bus strike, Lopaki said, "Oh, yeah, I wasn't mad before but now I am."

"It's frustrating ... the bus used drop me off near where I live."

Kalihi Valley resident Caroline Steensen said she got up at 4:45 a.m. yesterday and walked half an hour in the dark in order to catch a 6 a.m. city van at Kapalama Elementary School to get to work in Waikiki. Then in the afternoon she said she had to leave work early in order to catch a van home in front of the zoo at 4:25 p.m.

"Otherwise, I can't get home," Steensen said. "I'm not really mad, but I am disappointed with the bus drivers."

"I don't know if they deserve much more than they're already getting."

Traffic was thick and heavy at the H-1 and H-2 freeway merge in Pearl City as commuters traveled to town on the first day of the strike by TheBus workers.

Despite some confusion, the van drivers managed to service about 300 passengers yesterday. "It has been a successful program," said Managing Director Ben Lee.

"People have been calling all day today. There was no more to offer," said Lee.

Other public transportation alternatives include the city's jitney plan, which has cab drivers picking up commuters along bus routes and charging them a flat $3 fare. However, city officials said drivers for TheCab were not ready to begin the program yesterday.

"The taxicab companies wanted to train their drivers on the actual routes," said Soon. "They started that training (yesterday) morning and that will start picking up as people are using it."

Mayor Jeremy Harris announced that the city will provide limited-stop express bus service using contracted school buses starting today.

More motorists were also carpooling in order to use the zipper lane, which stayed open an extra 45 minutes. Soon said officials at the city's Traffic Management Center counted more than 4,700 vehicles using the zipper lane between from 5 until 9:15 a.m. That's compared to 2,900 vehicles in the zipper lane the day before and 2,400 vehicles from last week.

On King St. and Punchbowl. At a normally crowded bus stop, Misako Sharperson waited by herself for the city shuttle.

The University of Hawaii allowed students and faculty to park on the Bachman Hall lawn at the Manoa campus, and offered 2,000 additional parking stalls for students and faculty forced to commute by car.

Sam Pyun had to walk several miles from his neighborhood home to get downtown, but the 81-year-old didn't want to walk back home and tried to hail a cab.

"I'm tired and my legs are sore," he said. "It's either find a taxi or hitch a ride."

On the picket lines, bus driver and strike captain Russell Algoso acknowledged that a lot of people were going to be hurt by the walkout. "It's mostly low-income people who ride the bus," he said.

After five years of employment with Oahu Transit, bus drivers earn $21.27 hourly, or about $44,000 per year. The city noted that the bus drivers are paid more than Honolulu police officers, firefighters, and public school teachers.

"We worked too hard to get to his point," said Kardeen Wong, a member of the union negotiating team who was one of hundreds picketing at the Pearl City transit facility yesterday. "To compare the bus drivers to police officers and teachers is not a fair comparison."

"We don't want to give back what we worked so hard for," said strike captain Cedric Cartagena. "We're not asking for much."

Buses are Oahu's only form of public transportation, and including round trips and transfers, passengers step on to a bus an estimated 250,000 times a day.

The union submitted a revised $3.2 million wage and benefit request late Monday but refused to put it in writing unless management took its proposed benefit cutbacks off the table, said Confalone. Kahele blamed management for not taking its latest proposal to the city administration for consideration.

City van rider and Kauai resident Genny Moura said she remembered what it was like on Oahu during the last bus strike in 1971.

"Oh the strike back then was so long," said 67-year-old Moura. Regarding the union's motives during this strike she said "They planning to break us down so they get the money they want."

Star-Bulletin reporter Rose Bernardo and the Associated Press contributed to this story.



Susie Jackson, a Waikiki worker who usually relies on TheBus, told a trolley driver yesterday afternoon that she was trying to catch any public transportation. Jackson waited across from the Hale Koa Hotel after work and tried to hail a taxicab, but most were full. She hopped into a Charley's cab but got out after discovering the driver wasn't participating in the $3 jitney taxicab service. In desperation, Jackson asked an ecotour van driver if he could help her. The woman ended up walking to Ala Moana Center.

Strike so far fails to hit key tourist attractions

Major Oahu visitor attractions so far have seen negligible effect from the loss of bus service.

The USS Arizona Memorial had more visitors yesterday, on the first day of the strike, than the day before, said spokesman Brad Baker. Most visitors are here on a tour or cruise package, or drive rental cars, he said. "They've already made plans ahead of time," he said. "We really haven't had that much of an impact."

But the Battleship Missouri Memorial said 5 percent to 10 percent of its daily visitors ride the bus from Waikiki, and it expects a measurable impact from the strike, said Lee Collins, vice president of marketing and sales.

At the Dole Plantation on the way to the North Shore from Wahiawa, there has been no significant impact on visitor counts, since most visitors come by tour or rental car, not by bus, said Karlyne Sadanaga, manager.

The Waimea Valley Audubon Center said its day-to-day visitor counts tend to depend mostly on whether the waterfall is flowing. Right now, it's not, said Diana King, interim park manager.

Mall traffic takes a small dip at Sears

The bus strike had cut afternoon traffic yesterday at the Sears, Roebuck & Co. department store in Ala Moana Center, but late in the afternoon it was too early to say whether business for the whole day was affected, said General Manager Gill Berger.

"Yes, there was a drop in traffic but we're unable to calibrate it. It is definitely quieter in our store" during the day, Berger said. But business could pick up later once traffic died down, he said.

Pearlridge Center, one of the suburban malls promoted as a bus stop, seemed unaffected. "We have not seen any effect. Customers are coming in as normal," said Debra Sharkey, a spokeswoman for the mall. "With all the notice that we were given (of the possible strike) people were able to make alternative arrangements."

Sharkey had heard no reports of store employees not making it to work, she said.

Dwight Yoshimura, general manager of Ala Moana Center, could not be reached for comment.

Windward Mall was not affected, said promotions manager Nancy Bush.

"Business has been pretty much the norm for a Tuesday so it looks like the bus strike has not affected customers coming here to Windward Mall," she said.

Star-Bulletin staff


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