OAKLAND -- As train stations sat empty for a second day and commuters grew increasingly impatient, BART and its unions resumed negotiations Tuesday night with pressure mounting to halt a strike that now threatens Bay Area Fourth of July plans.
Gov. Jerry Brown called in two of the state's top mediators to urge both sides back to the bargaining table for the first time since BART's labor contract expired late Sunday, but a deal did not appear imminent as management and workers continued to fight over pay and benefits.
"There's been no conversation. So I think seriously getting back to talking is the first step that had to happen," BART spokesman Rick Rice said.
Still, almost four hours after the negotiations had reopened, BART advised commuters that there was "no indication" that union workers would be back on duty Wednesday morning, and advised regular riders to prepare for another day without train service.
Late Tuesday, BART and the union that represents 200 supervisors and professional workers reached a tentative agreement. If approved by workers, members of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees would go back to work immediately, though the return of train service is still dependent on BART reaching a deal with the two larger unions that represent 2,300 line-level workers.
While commuters could suffer through another traffic nightmare Wednesday on Day 3 of the BART shutdown, many Bay Area residents are dreading the impact on the holiday weekend and planning to stay closer to home than usual.
"There's no way we're going to go out; it's going to be crazy," said Oakland resident Luis Landero, exhausted after meandering around the region by bus and carpool from his home in Oakland to his job in San Francisco. He planned to celebrate Independence Day with friends he could reach by foot.
BART trains carried more than 182,000 one-way trips on last year's July 4 holiday, about half the load of a typical weekday, including many revelers drawn to San Francisco's nighttime fireworks and events throughout the day. But this year, many are avoiding a visit to the city, which this weekend kicks off a summer of sailing on the bay for the America's Cup regatta.
The BART strike is unlikely to deter the 80,000 to 100,000 people who annually flock to the Berkeley Marina for a city-sponsored fireworks display.
Others looking to see fireworks over the bay might stick to beaches and other spots along the East Bay and Peninsula hills and shorelines, or aboard a restored aircraft carrier in Alameda, where "on a crisp, clear night it's a pretty good view," said Randall Ramian, CEO of the U.S.S. Hornet Museum.
Caltrain will be the best bet for South Bay and Peninsula residents to get into San Francisco on Thursday. Following the fireworks show, the rail line will depart special trains toward San Jose, leaving San Francisco between 11:15 p.m. and 12:01 a.m.
But on Tuesday, all eyes were again focused on the BART talks, which resumed at a neutral state building in Oakland after a 36-hour break in which neither side appeared to be backing down.
BART is offering 8 percent salary increases over four years, double its original offer, while unions have countered with 20.1 percent pay raises over three years, down from their prior proposal of 23.2 percent.
The Brown administration, which has declined to issue a 60-day cooling-off period to delay a strike, had previously urged both sides to reach a deal but called in extra firepower Tuesday.
"At the California labor secretary's urging, all parties are returning to the bargaining table," said Brown's spokesman, Evan Westrup.
The mediators offer aid and pass offers and counterproposals between the two sides, which do not sit in the same room during negotiations.
BART board President Tom Radulovich -- to meet the state's 24-hour notice requirements for public meetings -- called for potential special board meetings each day from Wednesday through July 10 as a precaution in case a deal is available to approve on short notice. The meetings would only take place if a settlement is produced.
Meanwhile, AC Transit continued contract talks with its unionized bus drivers who continue working without a contract since midnight Sunday. Progress was made but no contract deal has been reached, AC Transit reported Tuesday night.
Tuesday's commute was about the same as Monday's for the most part on the roads, 511.org and California Highway Patrol officials reported, with carpools lanes approaching the Bay Bridge being heavier than usual. Despite fears of a gridlock nightmare, vehicles crossing the Bay, San Mateo and San Rafael bridges totaled nearly 213,000 on Monday, just 2.8 percent more than the week before.
Still, bus lines proved to be the most frustrating alternative for the 200,000 daily BART riders who have been displaced by the agency's first labor shutdown since 1997.
BART doubled the number of free special transbay charter buses, but those filled up an hour earlier Tuesday, stranding passengers who showed up after 7 a.m. Some riders arrived as early as 3:45 a.m. to get a seat. Caltrain, AC Transit and ferries remained much more crowded than usual and the Oakland Athletics endured their first game without BART. It all led to more frustrated commuters.
"We are the people who pay for them to have their jobs and look what they're doing to us," said Alexis Skyes, who showed up at a Walnut Creek bus stop in hopes of getting to work in San Francisco. "They should consider the passengers."
Many commuters are asking what can be done to get the trains back running.
The most realistic option may be for BART's board to impose new terms and conditions of employment and hope the unions, fearful of getting a raw deal, agree to a settlement. That's the strategy BART officials used to avert a strike during the last round of labor talks in 2009.
But BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the agency remains focused on reaching an agreement through negotiations.
Trost said it's "not an option" to replace the workers because train operators must go through a rigorous, state-regulated training and certification process. Workers have shown no willingness to work without a contract and be paid under the terms of their old deal, like AC Transit employees have been doing since their contact expired late Sunday.
"I can understand the frustration of the public," Trost said. "We want to bring the workers back as soon as possible."
Staff writers Matthew Artz, Denis Cuff and Theresa Harrington contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at email@example.com or 408-920-5705. Follow him at Twitter.com/rosenbergmerc.