BART's second strike in three months collided head-on with the Bay Area's morning commute Friday, resulting in heavy traffic, crowded buses and ferries and frayed nerves.
The work stoppage, called by BART's unionized employees after labor talks collapsed Thursday afternoon, forced many commuters to start their day earlier than usual as they sought logistical workarounds to get to the office.
Rebecca Biles of Pittsburg, who works at a law firm in downtown San Francisco, was on the first ferry to arrive at San Francisco's Ferry Building on Friday morning. It carried a full-capacity load of 149 passengers. Biles said she woke up at 3:30 a.m., significantly earlier than usual, to get to work on time.
"I hate BART," Biles said. "I may never ride it again. The ferry was actually pretty awesome, and I may just take it in the future. And the best part is they serve cocktails on the way home."
The ferry, one of 13 that traversed bay waters Friday -- 11 from San Francisco Ferry and two on loan from Golden Gate Ferry -- was one commuting option in the absence of BART, which carries 200,000 passengers each weekday on the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail system. The system shuttles passengers from the farthest reaches of the densely populated eastern suburbs to San Francisco International Airport across the bay.
Buses, some of them chartered by BART to service nine East Bay stations, were another option. Fourteen buses, each with a capacity of 50 passengers, departed the Walnut Creek station for San Francisco between 6:45 and 8:45. Walnut Creek resident Edward Benney, who has been commuting to San Francisco for about 19 years, waited in line for 30 minutes before boarding his bus.
"The real mayhem is going to come Monday," he said. "A lot of people can take today off. They probably aren't going to work. Monday is going to be much, much worse."
A lot of people hit the road, causing congestion, especially on freeways that parallel BART lines. Juan Brooks, a compliance officer at the courts in Oakland, left for work an hour earlier than usual. He was filling his car at the Shell gas station on Hillcrest Avenue in Antioch at 5:15 a.m.
"You have to roll with the punches in the Bay Area and just prepare yourself," he said.
While traffic was heavier across the board Friday morning, CHP officials said commuters headed into the city on Interstate 880 took the brunt of the region's traffic woes. Cars stood still for 15 miles of the northbound stretch, backed up from the toll plaza to Highway 238 by about 9 a.m. Heavy traffic also was reported on Highway 24 between Walnut Creek and the Bay Bridge and on southbound Interstate 80 between Highway 4 and the bridge.
"There are more vehicles out there on the road, but incident-wise it's been about normal," Officer James Evans said. "All in all, I wouldn't say it's a lot worse, except on the 880."
Some people improvised.
Alex Haler, 27, who lives in San Francisco's Mission District, usually takes BART from the 24th Street station to the 19th Street station in Oakland to reach his workplace. Friday morning, clad in running shoes, shorts and a long-sleeve shirt, he ran from his home to the Ferry Building to catch an eastbound ferry. He planned to run from the Oakland ferry stop to his office. He estimated his runs would total seven miles.
"I'm not too happy about this," Haler said.
Whether traveling on wheels on waves, commuters had plenty to say about the failed bargaining that resulted in the strike.
Vallejo resident Laura Noel, who usually commutes from the El Cerrito BART station to her job as an office coordinator in San Francisco, spent Thursday night at a friend's house in Oakland so she could get to work on time.
"It's frustrating," she said. "From Vallejo, the options are not very good. The ferry takes forever, the bus is even worse."
Still, Noel is sympathetic to striking BART employees.
"I think the workers made some concessions back in 2009 that they haven't gotten back," she said, "so I kind of favor them."
Friday morning, six pickets circled Oakland's Lake Merritt BART station at the corner of Eighth and Oak streets, chanting, "No Contract, No Peace."
BART employee Brendan McIntyre, one of the strikers, put the blame on management.
"They won't give us a contract," he said. "They just want to take away our benefits and money -- everything we've got."
"I'm trying to stay calm and just accept it, but I am just outraged -- two strikes in four months," said Oakland resident John Munnerlyn as he waited to board a bus at 20th and Broadway. Munnerlyn expected it would take him an hour to get to work in San Francisco, three times as long as it takes him on BART.
"I'm not happy with the unions and their leaders," he said. "I think they have really bad leaders -- four months and no contract."
And it wasn't only commuters left high and dry. A group of men recently released from Santa Rita Jail had been waiting for more than four hours for rides home. They'd been handed useless BART cards upon their release, and had walked to a station expecting to take the trains home, with no money for food or cab fare.
"They told us when we got out that BART wasn't running, so you're on your own," said Joey Alvarez of San Leandro. "Those BART employees are selfish, they're only thinking about themselves."
There were no talks Friday between BART management and the two unions representing BART employees. None are scheduled for Saturday.
Staff writers Paul Burgarino, Elisabeth Nardi, Natalie Neysa Alund, Robert Rogers, Erin Ivie, Matthew Artz, Jeremy Thomas and Pete Hegarty contributed to this report. Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.