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Up to 600,000 commuters across Sydney and Newcastle are taking trains, ferries and cars to get to work and school
because bus drivers have walked off the job.
The 24-hour stoppage began at 4am today, following demands from the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) for bus drivers to be given a pay rise without award conditions being taken away.
But disruption to afternoon peak-hour services may be avoided, with the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) calling a compulsory conference at noon to try to resolve the dispute.
The bus stand on York Street next to the Queen Victoria Building, which is usually teeming with bus commuters during the morning peak, was mostly deserted.
Of the handful of people at the stand, most were waiting for private buses, which continued to operate this morning.
One exception was Patrick Gooley, who was waiting for a bus to take him to work at Balmain.
Mr Gooley, who had travelled to the bus stand by train from Engadine in Sydney’s south, said he hoped a few bus drivers might break with their striking colleagues.
"A couple of years ago there was a bus strike and a few bus drivers still drove buses ... in defiance," he said.
"I've come in the hope there will be a few buses ... I'd prefer not to lose a day of work."
A few minutes later, with no sign of any buses, Mr Gooley and a colleague hailed a taxi.
Sarah Waterloo said she usually caught two buses from her home in Waterloo to work in Balmain.
Today she was at the bus stand at QVB only because it offered shelter from the rain while she tried to hail a cab, she said.
She had shared a taxi with three friends from Waterloo to the city, she said.
"I'm not overly happy but it's my last day of work today."
'STA should be ashamed'
A Sydney commuter, Vinnie, told smh.com.au her husband had to get up at 6am just to drive her to work.
"How inconsiderate of the bus drivers ... STA should be ashamed [of themselves] to put up the bus fare on January 3."
She said her colleague, who lives in the northern beaches suburb of Church Point, shared a taxi into the city with commuters at the bus stand.
"The total fare costs $83.25. As a reward to her for being a conscientious worker and not taking a day off like others do, our firm decided to reimburse her taxi fare."
Another commuter, Eleanor, said she would walk to work in the city from Balmain.
"Hopefully the rain holds off. Maybe I will even try and hitch a ride.
"Regardless of the strike, the public transport here in Sydney - this so-called international city, who not so long ago held the Olympics - is one of the worst I've ever seen."
Len Shenfield said he only found out about the strike from a passing motorist.
"There were no warnings at the bus stops. ...
"This is totally unacceptable, the selfish behaviour, the total disregard for the commuters," he said.
Other Sydneysiders said their employers arranged for them to work from home instead.
A spokeswoman for AMP, which has 1900 employees working in its Circular Quay offices, said employees who were "severely affected" could make alternative working arrangements with their managers, such as working from home.
Another firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has about 2000 employees working in the Sydney CBD, said it had "flexible working arrangements".
"When situations such as these arise, our people know they have the option to work from home - where appropriate - as part of PwC's flexible working arrangements," PricewaterhouseCoopers' director of human capital Sharon Bell said.
Northern beaches commuters were among the hardest hit, with no train servicing the peninsula.
Freshwater resident Emma Pearce said she and her fiance usually caught a bus to work in the city, but were forced to park at Queenscliff and walk to Manly wharf, where they caught a ferry.
Ms Pearce's fiance would get to work at least 45 minutes later than usual.
Despite the inconvenience, she said she understood where bus drivers were coming from.
"It’s probably the only way they can get what they want," she said.
"It’s inconvenient but ... 3 per cent a year [increase in wages] is not a lot."
Paul Brennan, from Fairlight, said he was lucky to find out about the strike this morning.
"I was in Brisbane working and I came home last night and then turned the radio on this morning and it’s the first I knew about it," Mr Brennan, a B70 bus patron, said.
He took a call on the ferry from a less fortunate colleague who hadn't heard the news and was stranded at his usual bus stop in Alexandria.
The NSW Taxi Council called for patience.
"Taxis were never designed to be mass transport providers, but today we have been placed in that position as 600,000 commuters are forced to find an alternative means of getting to work," council chief executive officer Howard Harrison said in a statement.
"We have every available car on the road and will work to get as many people as possible to work on time - but passengers should remember the bus strike is not our fault, the resulting traffic jams which slow us down are not our fault, and there are hundreds of thousands of people trying to get to the office by 9am."
To help taxi drivers deliver the most efficient service, Mr Harrison has asked passengers to pre-book where possible and allow multiple hiring.
"This is a stressful time of the year for everyone. Patience and courtesy would be appreciated when booking or riding in a taxi, and we ask that expectations are kept realistic," Mr Harrison said.
Taxi driver Nasser, who started driving at 5am, said today was so far his busiest day of the year.
"It’s been non-stop since 6am," said Nasser, who did not want his surname published.
"Every time they took me it was [to] the [transport] terminals and I came back with someone else.
"Especially with the rain, even with short trips they need taxis.
"Everybody is in a panic mode right now."
An RTA spokeswoman said that peak hour traffic was normal and there was "nothing unusual to report".
"The advice to people who would normally get a bus is to use a train wherever possible - don't drive a car because it is going to put a lot of pressure on parking.
"If people do need to drive, just be patient if they come into any traffic problems."
CityRail and Sydney Ferries
CityRail said it had the capacity to cope with added consumers
"We believe we have the capacity to handle the increase in patronage, so there are no extra trains. But all the regular services are running to timetable this morning," a CityRail spokesman said.
Manly Fast Ferry did a bumper trade in peak period. Its 7.10am service did not sell out but was 25 per cent fuller than normal, a staff member said.
The 8.05am service did fill up; unlucky passengers had to wait for the 8.20am regular Manly ferry.
Sydney Ferries said it would be able to put on more services if there was extra demand.
Ferry wharf stabbing
Commuters who planned to travel by ferry from Cabarita Wharf faced additional problems when the wharf was closed after a fight.
A police spokesman said the wharf was closed just after 4am as police investigated after a person was stabbed.
He said police expected the wharf to reopen to commuters soon.
Six per cent pay increase
The RTBU said the strike would go ahead despite a pay offer from the NSW Government and a recommendation from the IRC to cancel the action.
NSW Premier Kristina Keneally confirmed the Government would honour an offer of wage increases of 3 per cent backdated from June 12 this year and a further 3 per cent from June 12 next year.
Ms Keneally yesterday called on the union to abandon strike action, saying it would be a great inconvenience to workers and Christmas shoppers.
"The fact is this is a major inconvenience, it is unwarranted and it is unnecessary," she told reporters yesterday evening.
"The Government has made a fair and generous offer.
"The union asked us for an offer and we provided one - a fair and generous offer at 6 per cent.
"The union asked us to confirm that offer and I have done so."
'Nowhere else to go'
RTBU spokesman Raul Baonza apologised to commuters for the timing of the strike but insisted the union had "nowhere else to go".
He accused the Government of negotiating through the media.
"We have not been contacted by anyone about a formal offer. All we've heard is through media reports.
"We've had a three-and-three offer before but there was an unacceptable clause to that, which was opening up the buses to casual drivers. The Government is well aware that we rejected that so we don’t know whether they are flogging the same offer or not."
Mr Baonza said State Transit and the NSW Government should shoulder some responsibility for the strike being called.
"This didn’t happen overnight. The State Transit and the Government have been aware ... that there was the possibility of industrial action and they chose not to respond to the union.
"Yesterday we announced the strike at 10 o'clock, and the Premier and the minister did not comment the entire day. They came out at 8.30pm at night with an offer we know nothing about, which they have no put to us, which contains no details."
State Transit bus tickets will be recognised on CityRail train services and Sydney Ferries throughout the strike. Drivers are being allowed to use bus lanes but T-Way restrictions still applied, the RTA spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Transport’s Transport Co-ordination Group said parking was available at Moore Park and free shuttle services would run from there to Central Station during the morning and afternoon peak periods.
Western Sydney bus services on the Liverpool Parramatta Transitway are not affected.
CBD Emergency Warning System
Today, the Sydney CBD Emergency Warning System will be tested.
There are 98 speakers in the CBD that will broadcast the alarms at 12.15pm. Thirteen variable messaging signs are positioned at the city's transport hubs.
The test will focus on certain sites in the CBD, police said.
Glenda Kwek, Arjun Ramachandran, Georgina Robinson and AAP
The Sydney Morning Herald
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