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[June 13, 2014]
Region prepares for tough commute as transit strike looms [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: ]
(Philadelphia Inquirer (PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 13--With a growing prospect of a SEPTA Regional Rail workers' strike, commuters and employers are scrambling to make other plans for getting to work.
About 60,000 people in the region make 126,000 train trips a day, on average. Many of those riders are likely to take cars onto already crowded rush-hour highways or squeeze aboard packed buses and subways.
Some major Center City employers are encouraging employees to work flexible hours or to work from home, if their jobs permit.
Carpooling, employer shuttle-buses from distant parking lots, and temporarily working from remote office branches are other stopgap plans.
Amanda Stokes, 23, of Abington, said she takes the train every day to get to her job at the Anthropologie clothing store in Center City.
Her shift starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, so if the trains aren't running, she said, "I don't know, I guess I'll have to figure out a ride. There's no other way from the suburbs all the way up here." That means asking a friend or relative, since "I don't even have a license myself," Stokes said. "I lived in the city for years, so I didn't need it." Big health-care organizations in Philadelphia, such as Jefferson, Temple, and Penn, don't have the option of allowing employees to work at home. Patients need to be attended at bedside.
The health systems are encouraging lots of carpooling and, in some cases, making arrangements for additional parking.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System has "plans in place for extra car commuters, car pooling, and shuttle buses for remote parking lots," spokeswoman Susan Phillip said.
At Dechert LLP, one of the city's largest law firms, some employees have been given laptops to work from home and others will get flexible hours to avoid peak travel times, said spokeswoman Beth Huffman. And employees will be rewarded for carpooling with parking reimbursements, she said.
At Comcast, whose Center City office tower was built above Suburban Station to make rail commuting easy, employees are being encouraged "to work with their managers on alternative arrangements in the event a strike occurs," spokesman John Demming said Friday.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation maintains 14 park-and-ride lots in southeast Pennsylvania (see locations at www.pacommutes.com) for commuters, and PennDot will only allow maintenance and cleaning crews to close lanes between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to ease rush-hour jams, said spokesman Eugene Blaum.
PennDot district traffic engineer Lou Belmonte encouraged motorists to check traffic conditions by calling 511 or visiting www.511PA.com on the internet or 511PAPhilly on Twitter.
"That's a good resource for people used to taking transit who now have to switch," Belmonte said.
SEPTA said it plans to increase bus, subway, trolley, and Norristown High-Speed line service during the off-peak period between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. But during rush hours, the transit system is already at peak capacity, spokeswoman Jerri Williams said.
Parking lots at Regional Rail stations will offer free parking.
Joseph Bellinger, 32, of Upper Darby, said Friday he was not looking forward to crowded platforms and cars on the Norristown High Speed line if there is a Regional Rail strike, as displaced rail commuters are likely to use the high-speed line.
"It is definitely going to affect me coming home," he said while waiting at the Gulph Mills station. Bellinger, who works for an engineering company in Conshohocken, takes both buses and the Norristown line to work and was worried his routine will be disrupted.
"I might have to get the early train to be safe." At the Villanova train station, Lucia Herrmann, 20, of Bryn Mawr, was waiting to catch a train on her way to visit friends in New York City. She planned to return Sunday night but had no idea how she would get from Philadelphia to her home.
"I don't want to take a cab," she said before jumping on the inbound train.
Katie Bern, 23, of Philadelphia, a student at Villanova University, uses Regional Rail to commute to her classes during the week.
"This stuff happens all the time, I'll figure something out," she said.
The University of Pennsylvania sent an email to staff on Friday: "Penn offers flexible work option guidelines to help staff and supervisors determine how to propose and consider flexible work schedules, including earlier or later arrival and departure times, working from home, or compressed schedules that involve longer but fewer days at work." Temple University, expecting that many of its employees will drive in, will offer reduced rate parking at its Liacouras Garage and several lots. Employees will be expected to report to work on time, the university said.
Benita Cotton, 19, lives in an apartment in West Philadelphia and works at a Wendy's in Norristown.
She has her driver's permit, but no license, and she relies on the train to get to work.
"I don't have a backup plan, so I'd have to call out," she said, noting that many of her coworkers also commute from Philadelphia.
"I'd have to take like four buses to get up here, she said, which would take longer and cost more. "It would hurt me. I don't want it to happen." A strike "definitely will affect business," said Fabio Bevilacqua, who runs Fabio and Danny's Station Café at the Wayne train station and the Bryn Mawr Station café with his parents.
On Friday afternoon, Bob and Marie Even of Willow Grove, were taking the train to a medical appointment in Center City.
They aren't regular SEPTA riders, so they had not been following the details of the labor dispute. When Bob Even learned that rail engineers and electrical workers were seeking retroactive raises, he exclaimed, "Wow! Can I ask my boss for that?" Bucks County Commissioner Charles Martin, who serves on SEPTA's board of directors, said he is not aware of any plans by Bucks officials to handle potential traffic headaches.
"Frankly, I don't know what we could do," he said.
He said most people employed by the county and working in the county seat of Doylestown already drive to work, and would be unaffected by a regional rail strike.
For those who use the train to commute elsewhere, he simply advised them to pay attention to SEPTA's alerts and the media for the latest developments.
Staff writers Michaelle Bond, Harold Brubaker, Bob Fernandez, Chris Palmer, Jessica Parks, Mari Schaefer and Susan Snyder contributed to this article.
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