Phoenix-area bus riders feel strike's full effect

By the Associated Press | March 12, 2012 | 9:15 PM EDT

A few dozen bus drivers and family members, including Fernando Rodriguez, left, who has a father that is a bus driver, and George Vargas, who is a bus driver, walk in front of a Phoenix bus depot, as they join more than 600 Phoenix area transit bus drivers who are on strike Saturday, March 10, 2012, in Phoenix. Veolia Transportation Services and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 failed to end a nearly two-year dispute over wage and benefit terms such as sick-leave accrual, retirement benefits and health care coverage. Drivers walked off the job early Saturday. Phoenix officials say only about 21 percent of all buses will make their scheduled runs Saturday.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (AP) — The full impact of a strike by about 900 bus drivers in Phoenix and nearby Tempe was felt for the first time Monday as the workweek began.

The drivers went on strike Saturday against Veolia Transportation over wages and benefit disputes. The two sides had been negotiating for nearly two years but couldn't reach a deal.

Veolia said a federal mediator has contacted Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, and both sides were scheduled to meet Tuesday.

Veolia is required to provide 60 percent service levels in the event of the strike and the company has been training and flying in drivers from out of state, according to The Arizona Republic. Service hovered around 15 percent of normal for bus routes Veolia operates in Phoenix as evening commutes began.

Veolia has until March 24 to reach the 60 percent threshold, but "we expect 60 percent as soon as possible," Phoenix Public Transit Department Director Neal Young said.

The Phoenix and Tempe drivers operate 50 of the 101 routes served by the regional Valley Metro transit system, which serves more than 200,000 bus riders a day. Riders were urged to make other arrangements or check routes on the Valley Metro website.

Metro light rail service wasn't affected.

Mayor Greg Stanton said he was disappointed that the two sides allowed for three days of the strike to occur before returning to the negotiating table. He said Veolia and the union need to "do right by the people of this city" and negotiate around the clock until they settle the dispute.