I don't pretend to know the ins and outs of the BART strike. I don't have a full idea of who's right or who's wrong.
I am not as outraged as others that BART workers make an average of $80,000 a year. I also know they need to contribute more for their generous pensions and health care.
But as a transit fanatic and an occasional BART user -- I sometimes take a train from Fremont into San Francisco and back -- I can reflect a bit on what the ordinary commuter has endured.
Here are a few thoughts from my plague-on-all-your-houses reverie:
A) Don't impose a 60-day cooling off period unless there is a real prospect of agreement. Until the end, there did not seem to be serious movement toward a deal. In retrospect, it would have been better for Gov. Jerry Brown to allow a strike to play out in July.
If you are given 60 days and cannot settle, you'd better have a very good reason. What's happened in the interim has only poisoned the atmosphere.
B) If you are going to inconvenience your customers, let them know when and how much. In general, people forgive a lot but not when they have to check their cellphone at 3 a.m. to find out if they have a way to work in three hours. The BART mess has created a whole new population of insomniacs. Commuters would prefer a short strike and have done with it.
C) Don't look to the federal shutdown as a comparable fiscal battle. For BART users, the uncertainty of the trains running was a bigger headache than the closure of Alcatraz. At the very least, both sides should get a good PR team. That way, even if customers are being bamboozled, they won't feel quite like they're being used as pawns.
D) The first order of business when the strike is over -- and it will eventually be over -- is to improve BART's service, cleanliness and security. Over the last decade, I've seen a pronounced deterioration in all these areas. If this is a matter of work rules, they must be reformed. I suspect it's also a matter of culture. As it is now, the station managers look at you like it's your fault when a Clipper card is rejected by the finicky electronic gates.
I'm not holding my breath that any of these suggestions will be taken to heart. One of the biggest problems with BART is that it's a quasi-monopoly, at least for high-speed transit. There are options -- ferry, bus, driving -- but almost all are much slower. If BART offers dirty trains with few cops and surly workers, it does not pay much of a price. People anxious to make the trip into San Francisco or elsewhere in the East Bay will still take BART.
What's the answer? In the long run, I think that the unions and BART directors will have to agree on giving authority to a far more powerful manager who can enforce standards. That matters more than a squabble over money.
The unions may dislike this, but if it's done fairly, better service can only be in their interest. Very probably, they have the best ideas for how to accomplish it. Other systems do it. It's not reinventing the wheel. It's just common sense.