SAN FRANCISCO -- Telecommuting isn't an option for Lori Myers, a legal secretary from Walnut Creek, if BART workers go on strike again next week.

Myers, who travels to San Francisco for work, got a taste of how things might be during the four-day strike in early July, getting up at the crack of dawn and traveling for two hours by car, ferry and foot to make it to her job. She owns a car -- unlike many others who take transit to work -- but parking near her Embarcadero Center office was more than $50.

"If this is going to be something that goes on for one or two months, it's going to affect everything I do," said Myers, whose added time spent commuting also cut into her nighttime job as a dance teacher. "It affects my bottom line. I guess I'm going to have to get used to waking up early enough to cover the extra hours in each direction.

"I guess 4:30 is the new 6:30."

The strike exposed a transportation class structure disproportionately affected by crisis, experts say: Some individuals have plenty of options at their disposal, whether because of their resources or the nature of their jobs, while others have choices that range from bad to intolerable.

For the first group, a transit shutdown is a sizable inconvenience. For the others, it's a threat to basic subsistence.

"Technology has enabled people to work remotely, stay off the roads and alleviate the mess," said Rufus Jeffris, spokesman for the Bay Area Council. "But in terms of those folks who still have to use transit to get on the roads, it's going to be a painful, awful experience.


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"This is going to disproportionately impact the people who don't have that option -- security guards, nurses, restaurant workers -- they can't do their jobs from home."

No work, no wages

Though the first strike came when many had short weeks for the Fourth of July holiday, workers across all sectors faced many difficulties.

A West Oakland resident and daily BART commuter, Frog Hollow Farms manager Chanda Briggs, worked even on her regular days off at the coffee bar and farm stand inside San Francisco's Ferry Building, closing early on the days she couldn't fill the gaps.

She empathized with her employees unable to get to work from the East Bay, and lauded those who made the commitment to stay with friends in San Francisco.

"My employees can't make money if they're out of work," Briggs said between brewing coffee and stocking fruit one morning in early July. "We service employees, we can't afford to live in the city. We're the ones that suffer."

On Thursday, as she awaited word on whether the train system would still be operating Monday morning, Briggs struck a more optimistic tone.

"I'm just going to try to proceed as normal and hope everyone can get here," Briggs said. "But it really adds to the normal stress of running a retail business. We're such a small business, we don't have a lot of wiggle room."

The weight of the strike will fall most heavily on people like Briggs and her co-workers, said Stuart Cohen, executive director of transportation advocacy group TransForm. Lower-income workers tend to receive less flexibility from their employers and are less likely to have a car -- at least not for every person in the family.

For every two BART riders with a car available as backup, there is one commuter who lacks that option, according to a 2008 BART ridership study. That number increases in areas like downtown Oakland, where 46 percent of riders report having no vehicle to fall back on.

"If you work a retail shift, you can't just work from home, and your employer may not be sympathetic to your commute challenges," Cohen said.

Options for some

Still, those challenges are not ubiquitous. Jeffrey Bird, a 28-year-old Oakley resident who works at a San Francisco startup, revered the strike as "awesome" because it gave him incentive to telecommute.

"I refuse to drive my car anywhere near the city. It's not worth it," Bird said. "Physically being present makes zero sense for me and most of the professionals I know. All I need is a laptop and decent Internet connection."

But even though the strike happened in the age and epicenter of tech, countless jobs still demand physical presence.

During the first strike, Jake Hirschfeld, 29, of San Francisco, was removed from the schedule entirely at his Fremont bartending job, and spent an hour and a half riding buses to his second job in what would normally be a straight-shot by train.

"I think my bosses were annoyed by some people being unable to show up to work and had to deal with being understaffed," he said. "I couldn't get to one job, and it took way too long to get to the other. If you live in the Bay Area and don't have a car, you kind of rely on BART."

While mass-transit riders tend to have lower incomes than drivers, urban planning experts say that is not always the case with BART, which boasts a wealthier ridership than other transit agencies. In fact, the ridership survey shows, the single largest income group on BART makes from $100,000 to $149,999, totaling 19 percent of all riders. Some experts say the strike will be felt deeply by many of those wealthier individuals, whose time spent on the road is money being lost.

"Wealthier folks feel it more since they are more time sensitive -- i.e., have a higher value of time," said Robert Cervero, a UC Berkeley professor of city planning. And, Cervero said, that may be a good thing: "Because they have more political clout, it is the pain to the nonpoor that often creates the political pressure to quickly resolve the strike."

But Jeffris, of the Bay Area Council, said the region will suffer enormous harm in the meantime.

"Working-class people can't afford this," he said. "Our region can't afford it."

Contact Erin Ivie at eivie@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/Erin_Ivie.