Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Strike Strands L.A. Commuters

LOS ANGELES -- Mechanics for the United States' third-largest public transportation system went on strike Tuesday, shutting down buses and trains that an estimated 500,000 daily riders count on to get around Los Angeles County.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority mechanics walked off the job after midnight, and union officials said bus drivers, train operators and other workers would honor picket lines, halting some 1,900 buses, as well as light-rail and subway lines.

"The strike will continue indefinitely, until we get a contract," Neil Silver, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said early Tuesday by telephone. He was speaking from a picket line where he had joined about 50 members of the union, which represents some 2,200 MTA employees.

More than a dozen maintenance workers waved picket signs after midnight at an MTA center in West Hollywood where buses are cleaned and refueled. "We just dropped everything," said David Wilson, 26, of Los Angeles.

It was the area's second transit strike in three years; a walkout by bus drivers in 2000 shut down the system for 32 days.

Fernando Reyes, who depends on the bus to go from his Glendale home to his restaurant job in Santa Monica, said he had to take taxis to keep his job during the 2000 strike. The 32-year-old barely broke even, forking over his $35 in tips to taxis each night -- something he was not willing to do this time around.

"I don't know what I'll do," Reyes said. "I guess I'll have to bike to work. I'll have to leave early in the morning."

Waiting for a bus on Santa Monica Boulevard just before midnight, 18-year-old Allia McCoy said she had walked nearly 10 blocks after her shift ended at a Beverly Hills retail store to catch one of the last buses heading out of the area. She said she still had to find a way to L.A. City College.

"I have no idea what I'm going to do," she said, shaking her head.

The MTA carries about 500,000 riders a day, MTA spokesman Marc Littman said. The number accounts for between 75 percent and 80 percent of those in the county who use public transportation.

Up to 9,000 union workers could potentially honor the strike, Littman said. Sixteen other municipal bus lines in the region were expected to operate as usual, he said. Metrolink commuter trains also were to operate normally.

The decision to proceed with a walkout was made Sunday, after negotiations between the union and the MTA broke off with "absolutely no progress" despite intervention from a state mediator, Silver said.

"This is a great tragedy for the people of the county of Los Angeles, the people who depend on public transportation to get to work, to get to school," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Monday.

The parties are at odds over the mechanics union's health fund, which is in dire financial shape. The union wants greater contributions from the MTA to cope with soaring medical costs. The MTA pays nearly $17 million every year into the fund, which is administered by the union and pays for the medical coverage of 2,000 employees and retirees.

The MTA has not increased its contribution to the fund in more than a decade, while rising medical costs have forced the union to spend fund reserves to keep up, Silver said. "They were waiting for us to run bone dry," he said.