BART strikes show importance of transit system to Bay Area

There have been many lessons learned over the past few months from the BART labor dispute, but the key takeaway might be that the transit service has become indispensible for the entire Bay Area.

The talks — or lack thereof — between BART and its unions began in earnest in April, but the sides were so far apart that negotiations devolved into two service shutdowns, one in July after the workers' contract expired June 30 and the second starting last week and going into this week.

The first strike caused a hiccup in the Bay Area commute since it started the week of the July 4 holiday, and many commuters were thought to have telecommuted or taken an extended holiday.

This last strike, though, hammered home the importance of BART — especially on Monday, when the full strength of the Bay Area workforce attempted to commute sans the transit system.

BART has become more than a convenience for those who don't want to drive. It has become a service that is needed to efficiently transport workers since the other existing infrastructure, namely roads, cannot be expanded to handle the current and growing needs of our region.

More and more, homes must be built along commuter corridors to serve the growing housing needs that are accompanying fast job growth in the Bay Area. BART does, and will continue to, serve an expanding role in moving those people to work, school and everyday errands.

The deal hammered out between BART and its unions still needs to be ratified by workers and approved by the transit agency's board of directors — and it should be done posthaste in order to quell fears of any more work stoppages.

Then there needs to be a discussion about what happens next. The proposed contract is for four years. Over that span, the population of the Bay Area is projected to grow, placing an even greater demand on BART.

The brinkmanship from both sides of the talks did lead to an agreement, but one in which both sides budged after crippling the region with two work stoppages. The discussion about how future negotiations are handled, including the possibility of banning strikes for BART workers, which would require state legislation, needs to start as the ink dries on the contract.

The importance of BART is not a union or management issue, but a regional one. No one will be well-served with another bitter contract dispute or work stoppage in the future.

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