If BART workers go on strike in a few weeks, frustrated Bay Area commuters will at least have a lot more extra buses to hop on, extra carpool lanes to cruise through and possibly even a few BART trains to ride.
BART and its unions on Wednesday will be three-fourths of the way through the 60-day cooling-off period ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown, with virtually no progress reported and another shutdown looming for Oct. 11.
Bay Area transportation officials Tuesday released a strike contingency plan that would cost up to $21 million and go beyond the response to the strike in July, and the threatened strike in August. One big reason is that traffic peaks in the fall and BART rider counts surge 30 percent.
BART would operate 200 free charter buses -- triple the number it initially ran during the first strike -- between East Bay and San Francisco stations. If a strike is called off, an estimated $900,000 in bridge toll revenue would be lost to nonrefundable deposits.
The agency is also considering offering limited train service through the Transbay Tube and is retraining a dozen certified ex-train operators who are now in management. The managers are the only option: Under union contracts, new employees can't begin the 15-week training to become replacement operators until a strike begins.
The BART Board of Directors still needs to approve the proposal, which would allow 1,000 people to cram on each rush-hour train. Unions have blasted the plan as unsafe for passengers, saying that some aspects of the job such as emergency evacuations can be handled only by operators who are on the job every day.
Even still, the extra shuttle and train service would provide rides only for a fraction of the 200,000 people who ride BART round trip daily.
"It's for those who have absolutely no other transportation," and "who absolutely must get into the city," said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost.
For drivers, carpool lanes for the first time would be enforced all day -- instead of just during rush hour -- on Interstates 880 and 680 along the BART corridor in the East Bay. And new, temporary diamond lanes would be added to Highway 24 near the Caldecott Tunnel. That would be in addition to all-day carpool lanes on Interstate 80 and the Bay Bridge, a plan that was enforced during the 4½-day shutdown in July. Also, trucks may be allowed on I-580 to lighten up traffic on I-880.
Finally, other transit agencies -- from AC Transit to San Francisco Muni to ferries -- will match the number of extra trains, buses and boats from the last shutdown.
A proposal for the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission to operate shuttles will likely be axed at the board's meeting Wednesday in light of the extra BART buses. The commission, which oversees Bay Area transportation and is coordinating the strike contingency plan, also said it would take an "astronomical number" of buses and drivers to replace BART.
"That capacity is not going to be made up from 200 buses, and it wouldn't be made up by 2,000 buses," said commission spokesman John Goodwin. "The bottom line is there is no substitute for BART."
During the July shutdown, about half of the 56,000 people who would have ridden BART round trip through the Transbay Tube wound up staying home, the commission said. About 21 percent hopped in carpools across the Bay Bridge, and 5 percent drove solo, while 13 percent rode ferries, 6 percent took East Bay bus lines and 3 percent used the BART shuttles.
Since the labor talks began five months ago, management and the two large labor unions representing 2,300 blue-collar BART workers have inched closer only on the key issues of increases to pay, pension contributions and medical insurance. Depending on which side is asked, they are either tens of millions of dollars or more than $100 million apart.
Negotiations on the economic issues were set to resume Wednesday and continue daily through the deadline.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.