Boxes of vegetables garnished the Kekaulike Mall sidewalk yesterday. According to one vendor, sales were busy despite the bus strike. Other business owners in the area say there has been a drop in business.

Bus strike chokes

Restaurant owners complain
of a drop in business since
the OTS drivers' walkout

Helen Liang, a 41-year-old mother of two children, walked 90 minutes from her Nuuanu home to her weekend waitressing job in Chinatown.

"No more bus, how can I go to work?" said Liang, who started walking at 6:30 a.m. to get to Mei Sum Dim Sum in time for her lunch shift yesterday.

Liang looked warily at her boss, "And if I'm late I'm gonna get in trouble."

Liang is one of many workers who tried to get to jobs on the first weekend without bus service. The strike, which began Tuesday, shows no signs of letting up until after Labor Day.

No negotiations are scheduled between the Teamsters Local 996 and management of Oahu Transit Services, Inc. (OTS), the company that manages TheBus for the city.

Restaurant owner Francis Ho greeted each customer yesterday as they entered Mei Sum Dim Sum for lunch. Ho lamented that his business and others in Chinatown have seen a drop of 50 to 60 percent since the strike began.

Picketers held signs and wore T-shirts stating their demands yesterday in front of the Middle Street Bus Depot.

"Just look at the restaurant," said Ho pointing at 11 empty tables and the dim sum carts circulating around only four filled tables. "A normal Saturday lunch time would mean a full house."

Ho said, "People who come to Chinatown, they catch bus. No more bus means trouble for us."

Ho said limited parking also discourages people from driving to Chinatown.

"I hope they go back to work because whole Chinatown suffers."

The bus strike also affected other people yesterday as they tried alternate ways to get to stores and doctor's appointments.

Shige Miyashiro, 81, wore a tan broad-brimmed hat to protect his head from the sun during his 15-minute walk to Kuakini Medical Center.

His wife, Atsuko, 78, said, "We walked down. We're older, but we have our legs. We can still walk."

She said the couple plan to walk wherever they need to until the strike ends.

"Good we live near. We can walk. Hope strike is over fast," she said.

One woman, who declined to give her name, was at Kuakini to see an orthopedic doctor for a bad knee. She said she had to call her daughter to drive her around yesterday to her doctor's appointment and to shopping she could not do during the week without the bus.

"Be sure to tell the bus drivers we sure miss them," she said.

Perra Adams, who lives in the Dillingham area, normally rides the bus "four or five times a day," she said. She's been getting around since Tuesday on a loaned bicycle, towing her children, ages 4 and 5, in a "buggy" trailer behind her. "Together they weigh about 90 pounds. I'm going to lose weight if this keeps up," she said.

"Bus drivers are hurting the whole economy," Adams said. "The drivers are only thinking of themselves. ... A lot of people don't have much money to spend on cabs."

At Ala Moana Center yesterday, opinions were mixed as to whether the bus strike has affected business.

Louvanna Martos, manager of Paradise Music, said that since Tuesday business has been down 50 percent at its Ala Moana kiosk, but up slightly at its Waikiki International Marketplace store. "I think the tourists are staying in Waikiki," she speculated.

But Priscilla Burgess, manager of Fossil, a shop that sells watches, leather goods and sunglasses, said business has been booming. "It's been up 75 percent. We can't complain," she said.

Gary Skalman, general manager of Foot Locker at Ala Moana, said he's not seen a marked change in overall sales this week. "But a couple of bus drivers did come in for some comfortable shoes before the strike, so they could walk the picket line," he said.

Sonny Dudoit, who greeted union members showing up to picket at the Middle Street bus facility, said members are frustrated with the negative feedback from the community, but that the spirit at the picket line is still strong.

"We're still pumped up over here," said Dudoit, as he pointed to the picketers.

Dudoit said some picketers were tired and complained of aches, pains, sunburns, and heat exhaustion.

"It's working everyone, but that's because this is all new to us," he said.

Ben Asato, a mechanic for TheBus, is also frustrated that many in the community are down on the strikers.

Asato is angry at the media, which he said is fueling the negative reaction in the community. He said he is tired of being blamed for the traffic snarls and being told that police and firefighters make less than bus drivers.

"There's been a lot of negative stuff, but we're sticking together," he said. "The strike has gotten everyone together like a big family."

Star-Bulletin reporter Diana Leone contributed to this report


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