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Strike grinds Geneva public transit to halt

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Strike grinds Geneva public transit to halt
SEV member Ana Belen Ceberra hands out information about union position before strike. Photo: SEV
09:22 CET+01:00
Public transport in Geneva ground to a virtual halt on Wednesday as streetcar and bus drivers walked off the job to protest budget cuts and planned job reductions.

Commuters who normally rely on public transport were forced to find other ways to get to work in Switzerland's second largest city, putting taxis in high demand, according to a report from the Tribune de Genève newspaper.

A number of buses were operating, including some of those linking areas in neighbouring France with Geneva’s city centre, but only those run by a sub-contractor whose employees are not involved in the strike.

Despite the cut in service, few major traffic jams were initially reported in the city during the morning rush hour, although sections of the A1 motorway encircling the city were congested.

Throngs of cyclists, people using non-motorized scooters and pedestrians were reported using streetcar lanes to get to work, the Tribune de Genève said.

However, later in the morning, bottlenecks were reported in many parts of downtown as people who normally use transit drove to work.

Management was negotiating with the representatives of SEV, the public transport workers union, to maintain “minimum service”, radio broadcaster RTS reported.

The SEV represents the 740 drivers and technicians who went on strike, blocking streetcars and buses from leaving depots at La Jonction and Bachet-de-Pesay starting at 3am.

The strike was scheduled to continue until 3am on Thursday.

Members of the union voted 93 percent in favour of the work stoppage to protest an "austerity" budget for transit and the planned reduction of 100 jobs.

The union argues that the plans put in peril the continued development of Geneva's transit system, which has succeeded in boosting the number of trips by 65 percent between 1990 and 2010.

Geneva's population is continuing to grow and the region's transit master plan calls for a seven percent further increase in passenger trips between now and 2018.

In this context, the union argues, its doesn't make sense to reduce staff.

However, a decision by Geneva voters in May to reduce fares, effective December, has put TPG management in a difficult position, given that this is expected to reduce annual revenues by millions of francs.

Strikes in Switzerland are relatively rare and work stoppages for public transport have not been seen for years in Geneva.

Luc Barthassat, cantonal transport minister, promised penalties against those who prevented buses and streetcars from operating.

"It's unacceptable," Barthassat told RTS radio.

In an interview he blamed a minority of activists from stopping drivers who wanted work on Wednesday by blocking depots where buses and streetcars are parked overnight.

Barthassat said police would be sent to remove obstacles, including union members standing arm-in-arm and private vehicles parked in front of depots.

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