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Honolulu Public Bus Workers Go on Strike

August 27, 2003 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) _ Oahu’s congested roadways were even busier. The University of Hawaii turned its front lawn into a parking lot.

Even Mayor Jeremy Harris got into the act, moonlighting as a van driver.

A strike by more than 1,300 bus workers paralyzed public transport on Hawaii’s most populous island Tuesday, forcing tens of thousands of commuters to find another way to work.

With no sign of resolution and the morning commute just hours away, Honolulu’s first public bus shutdown since 1971 moved into a second day Wednesday.

Buses are Oahu’s only form of public transportation. Including round trips and transfers, passengers step onto a bus an estimated 250,000 times a day.

Sam Pyun had to walk several miles from his neighborhood home to get downtown, but the 81-year-old didn’t want to walk back home and tried to hail a cab.

``I’m tired and my legs are sore,″ he said. ``It’s either find a taxi or hitch a ride.″

Mel Kahele, president of Hawaii Teamsters Local 996, said the union was prepared to stay off the job for as long as three months. No new talks were scheduled.

Perry Confalone, chief negotiator for Oahu Transit Services, called the union’s action ``unconscionable.″

``They have to pick up the phone and they have to come forward and start acting rationally and responsibly,″ Confalone said.

Representatives from both sides negotiated behind closed doors for more than nine hours Monday but failed to come to an agreement by the midnight deadline.

Transit workers are seeking higher wages and benefits, demands that the company says it is unable to grant since the bus system faces a budget shortfall of $6.8 million.

In preparation for the strike, the state Department of Transportation increased the hours of high-speed lanes, lowered the number of occupants required to use them and opened some to vehicles regardless of the number of occupants.

The city administration recruited 45 people to drive city vans to help residents get to their jobs. Harris was one of the drivers.

The University of Hawaii allowed students and faculty to park on the Bachman Hall lawn at the Manoa campus, and offered 2,000 additional parking stalls for students and faculty.