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NY commuters forced to improvise

New Yorkers dusted off their bikes and put on their skates

NEW YORK – New Yorkers begged rides on the Internet, dusted off their bikes and put on their skates on Wednesday in the battle to beat a mass transit strike that has hit business and raised tempers at the height of the holidays.

«I am a fifth grade teacher, and I need to get to my class!» read one posting on www.craigslist.com seeking a ride from the Bronx to Brooklyn.

«Anyone driving from the Met to Brooklyn tonight?» read another message from somebody hoping not to waste their tickets to the Metropolitan Opera on Wednesday evening.

The bus and subway strike by some 34,000 transit workers is New York’s first for 25 years. Staff walked out on Tuesday after talks on pay, healthcare and pensions broke down.

Todd X (correct), a 36-year-old bicycle mechanic, said his shop, Bicycle Habitat on Lafayette St. in Manhattan, stayed open an extra 3 hours on Tuesday to cope with the extra work tuning up old bikes.

«We’re getting a lot of flat tires, mostly on decrepit pieces of garbage that people unearth from the basement at the last possible moment,» he said.

Rudi Hiebert, a 42-year old medical researcher, said the lack of subways was a good excuse for him to brave the cold and get back on his in-line skates, unused for over a year.

«I need the exercise,» he said after crossing Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn. «Its a beautiful day — I think I might keep skating to work even when the strike is over.»

Shopowners, hit at what is usually the busiest time of the year in the week before Christmas, were less cheery: «Nobody’s walking in, it’s very dead,» said Gary Tepper, a 52-year-old who runs an eyeglass shop in Manhattan.


Officials have said the strike will cost the city $400 million on day one and $300 million a day until Friday.

Two local tabloids showed little sympathy for the strikers. «Mad As Hell» the Daily News screamed on its front page. The New York Post had this message for strikers: «You Rats.»

With temperatures below freezing despite bright sunshine, commuters wrapped up in hats, scarves and gloves trudged long distances to work. Some were lucky enough to hail cabs that were charging fixed rates and picking up multiple passengers.

Police enforced strict car-pool rules during morning rush hour, leading to huge traffic jams above 96th St, from where vehicles needed at least four occupants to proceed downtown.

Traffic also piled beyond the many bridges and tunnels that feed traffic in from outlying areas. Bicycle rickshaws touted for business on major avenues, and ferries were packed.

State law prohibits public sector employees from striking, and the union behind the strike faces a fine of $1 million a day as long as it remains off the job. The court is due to reconvene on Wednesday to consider fining individual workers.

TWU Local 100 leader Roger Toussaint slammed the threat of fines as «terror» tactics aimed at intimidating workers: «This is all intended to scare working people from pursuing their legitimate and just needs and demands,» he told NY1 news.

A 1980 transit strike lasted 11 days, but in a sign that the Transport Workers Union Local 100 may face pressure to end the strike sooner rather than later, its parent International TWU advised against the stoppage.

Meanwhile some New Yorkers were making the best of it — John Levine, 29, said he had started work at 4. a.m. to beat the traffic on his route delivering beer. «People still need their beer, just like normal,» he said.