New York City prepares for life without public transit

Friday, December 13, 2002

NEW YORK -- Bond broker Vince DiGaetano would dust off his old bicycle, while Bronx teenager Alex Macari would "depend on my own two feet." Attorney Seth Rowland would telecommute and suburbanite Joan Cronin would give up holiday shopping in Manhattan.

As transit officials asked a judge Thursday to block a potential strike by 34,000 bus and subway workers, millions of people made plans in case the nation's largest public transportation system is shut down next week.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a strike would cost New York City and its businesses hundreds of millions of dollars every day, economic damage experts say would ripple across the nation.

"Because of New York's pre-eminence in the national and global financial markets, this will be detrimental to businesses throughout the United States," said Anthony Savino, an attorney and professor at St. John's University.

Staffing problems would hit major banks and corporate deals would be disrupted or delayed, he said. Tourism could suffer in a city already facing a multibillion-dollar deficit.

Backup plans

More talks were scheduled Thursday to try to reach a deal before the contract expires Sunday. Union members have authorized a strike as early as Monday though the request for a court injunction will be the subject of a hearing today.

The city hasn't had such a strike since an 11-day walkout in April 1980. The transit system moves 7 million people daily.

Companies are drafting backup plans in case their employees can't get to work -- chartering buses, sending workers to suburban backup offices or letting them work from home.

Last year's terrorist attack forced large firms to be prepared for situations that leave workers scattered, said Kathryn Wylde, president of the New York City Partnership business advocacy group.

"The big companies have invested in both alternate work locations and arrangements for people to work from home," Wylde said.

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