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`CAPTIVE RIDERS' FUMING OVER STRIKE

As this city's transit strike wears on, some of the estimated 280,000 people with no alternative to public transportation say they feel nothing but contempt for transit workers, whose wages average $16.10 an hour.

"If all of us could go on strike until we get better wages, I think most of us would," said Doug Patten, a shipping clerk who has to wake up at 5 a.m. and walk miles to work since the strike began a week ago. "That's not a luxury most of us have."Patten, 33, is part of a group of people the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority classifies as "captive riders," said Lance Haver, the leader of the Consumers Education and Protective Association, a group that often opposes transit rate hikes.

"Those are people who will ride no matter what the cost," Haver said. "They have no choice."

Captive riders comprise about 80 percent of the 350,000 people who use public transportation in the city every day. Many of them are poor.

The strike by 5,200 members of the Transport Workers Union has knocked out all bus, streetcar, subway and elevated train service inside the city limits.

The union - seeking a 3 percent raise in each of three years - rejected a contract that called for a 7 percent wage increase over three years. SEPTA and the union met with a state mediator for seven minutes Sunday, the first talks since the walkout began, but both sides reported that nothing was accomplished. Transit officials say they are strapped by declining ridership and reduced government subsidies. Base pay for the transit workers ranges from $22,000 for custodians to $33,500 for subway and bus operators.

Regional train lines are still running, but a strike began Sunday on SEPTA's suburban streetcar and bus lines, which serve 21,500 riders. Suburban drivers face heavier traffic on the highways.