The tech workers are panicking like shit over BART strike. For the past week, the good people of San Francisco have suffered under the looming threat of a strike by the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Workers walked off the job this morning, stranding as many as 400,000 passengers who ride the trains every day.
And the tech community cannot stop freaking the f*ck out over it.
Gregory Ferenstein opines in a column of almost 1,000 words for TechCrunch that the city could potentially just replace the subway drivers with robots, thus cutting costs and the last vestiges of humanity from the cold, dark subterranean system of tubes and rails running throughout much of San Francisco.
According to Ferenstein, for months he peppered BART’s public affairs department with questions regarding the automation of the subway trains following a similar strike earlier this summer.
In a culmination of those inquiries, BART finally responded with a curt statement back to Ferenstein, “BART’s response to your inquiry is that you have posed valid theoretical questions best answered by researchers who study the future of train technology, not by the people who are focused on using the existing technology safely. Thanks for your continued patience.”
Ferenstein conducted his own investigation into the matter following BART’s advice and actually did end up talking to technologists. His conclusion was that not only is automation possible, but it could prove to be safer and would certainly be more cost effective.
BART union leaders and management have been at odds since this summer when a similar strike over labor disputes crippled the city for four days. BART employees returned to work only after California Governor Jerry Brown ordered “a 60-day cooling-off period.”
At that time, several technologists in Silicon Valley openly questioned the value of BART employees in getting commuters to and from work.
Sarah Lacy, founder of PandoDaily and former TechCrunch writer, drew considerable ire last summer for comments she made to NPR’s Marketplace when she suggested that “if I had more friends who were BART drivers, I would probably be very sympathetic to their cause, and if they had more friends who were building companies they would probably realize we’re not all millionaires, and we’re actually working pretty hard to build something.”
She went on to further wonder why no burgeoning tech entrepreneurs had yet sought to “disrupt BART,” seemingly in hopes that the whole situation involving commutes and human beings could be altogether avoided given the opportunity.
The cooling-off period ordered by Governor Brown officially ended on Oct. 10. Since then, commuters had been worried about the possibility of another strike — which has finally arrived — bringing the city to a standstill once more.
There is no word on how long the BART strike could last this time around. After 28 hours of negotiations, both sides seemed surprised that they were unable to reach a compromise to keep the train system running.
UPDATE: After a four-day strike, management and union negotiators finally reached a deal Monday night just after 10 p.m. BART has restarted limited train service as of 4 a.m. this morning.
Joel Mazmanian is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @joelmazmanian.
Photo by Flickr user ykanazawa1999