Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bikes a Cheap Bailout from Strike

Apparently, the public transport strike really is getting more people on bikes. I'm in the market for a cheap (read: disposable) used bike so yesterday I stopped by my local bike shop. It's a tiny, window-front store (Blue Cet kerékpárbolt at Török u. 5) and has space for no more than 20 bikes, including a few that are chained up on the sidewalk out front.

They didn't have anything I wanted, partly because there's been a run on merchandise since the BKV strike began Monday. In five days, the store's sold at least 10 bikes to commuters desperate for a stop-gap alternative to BKV. A run like that is unheard of in January, the owner told me.

A terrific mainstream endorsement for biking the strike appeared in Thursday's edition of Metropol Budapest. On an inside spread with the daily sztrajk update were a few paragraphs on how two college students, Nikoletta and Cecile, were coping. A picture shows the pair standing on a tram platform, all bundled up in knit scarves, with one holding a bicycle. The caption reads simply: "She went by bike."

In the article, Cecile explains that the Budapest strike hasn't been difficult compared to the last one in her native France. Here, most lines of transport are still running, though with less frequency. In France (presumably, during the last strike in fall, 2007), public transport nearly shut down completely.

This brings to mind an odd thing I noticed about the strike. It doesn't seem to have caused much in the way of chaos. The first morning, as I mentioned in my first post on the strike, there were traffic jams and the sidewalks were packed with involuntary pedestrians. But the next morning, car traffic, at least in Buda, was almost normal. The crowds had also diminished on the the suburban train to Szentendre (HÉV). The only place where I've consistently run into uncomfortable congestion is on the slow-downed 4-6 tram line.

All this has made me wonder if there are lots of people who are simply staying at home. I reckon most workers can do this for a few days without straining relations with their bosses. However, as the strike drags on, pressure will increase to find ways to get to work -- especially, as public transport and the road network -- not to mention local bike routes -- DO seem to have unused capacity. It'll be an interesting week ahead.

According to the latest news, worker unions and BKV management are still at loggerheads with no progress in negotiations since the get-go. The strike, already the longest in Hungary in 10 years, was to continue indefinitely.

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