Transit strike slows pace in France as Sarkozy agrees to talks
Commuters urge president to not cave to unions
PARIS - France's transport strike eased but did not end yesterday, after President Nicolas Sarkozy accepted negotiations while refusing to budge on his campaign-trail promise that cushy retirement benefits must go.
Frustrated commuters - many of whom had to walk, pedal, or roller-skate to work - urged Sarkozy to hang tough, saying France needs economic reforms to thrive.
Rail and transport workers' unions vowed to press the walkout into a fourth day today, as the government sought to trumpet figures showing that support was fading.
"Today, there are twice as many buses as yesterday, twice as many trains as yesterday, more subways than yesterday," said Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand at the Senate. "Still, there are millions of French who don't have public transport that they're accustomed to."
Paris streets became a tangled network of bottlenecks during the evening commute hours. Motorcyclists rode on sidewalks to evade the traffic jams, while drivers became enraged and blew horns over the slow pace. The rotary at the famed Arc de Triomphe was at a standstill at one point.
The national rail authority said 150 of 700 high-speed trains were running yesterday, compared with 90 on Wednesday. Paris's transport authority said only about 20 percent of subways were running, operated by the few drivers who ignored the walkout call.
Tourists complained that their hopes for a fun-filled Paris getaway had soured. Business owners grumbled about lost business.
"There are no people, there's no one," deli owner Rene Faucheux said. "The people consume less, they're in a hurry to arrive, and a hurry to leave. The result is zero."
The national rail operator said slightly more than three in five train drivers went to work yesterday, up from two in five as the strike moved into full swing Wednesday. The Paris transport authority said about one in four of its workers were striking, down from about half a day earlier.