In the meantime, buses, subways and trolleys throughout the region fell idle, forcing 400,000 daily riders to make other arrangements or stay home.
Striking workers chanted and waved signs around city and suburban stations, some getting an earful right back.
"You work for your rights and that's cool, but I've got to get downtown," John Tillman, who runs a moving company, screamed at pickets near the Market-Frankford El terminal at Bridge and Pratt Streets. "I've got three jobs today, and I can't move myself."
Others honked car horns in support as they passed the strikers.
For longtime residents, Day One followed a familiar script of congested streets, absent employees and cattle-car conditions on SEPTA's Regional Rail lines, the system's only major component still running.
Between 7 and 8 a.m., the average rush-hour speed on the eastbound Schuylkill Expressway was 32 m.p.h., down from 52 m.p.h. the previous Monday, according to www.traffic.com, a traffic-monitoring Web site.
Absenteeism in some public schools was up by as much as 20 percent in Philadelphia, where thousands of children ride SEPTA to classes.
The only real suspense was how long this mess might last. The 1998 strike turned into an epic of biblical proportions: 40 days and 40 nights.
Count on it continuing for at least another day. Exhausted and frustrated, labor negotiators failed to meet yesterday after hitting a midnight impasse.
State and local politicians, largely silent before the strike, began publicly nudging negotiators back together.
"With contract negotiations cut off, there is no hope" of settling, Gov. Rendell said. "I am confident that if SEPTA and labor leaders return to the bargaining table, a fair resolution can be reached."
For some commuters, the strike meant long treks to unfamiliar Regional Rail stations, instead of their usual subway, trolley and bus stops.
"I had to walk 2 1/2 miles to get to the R2. My legs are hurting," said Francesca Boone, a student at the Thompson Institute in University City who normally travels by bus and the Market-Frankford El from her home in Mount Airy.
For others, it meant imposing on family or friends for a ride.
Tamika Jackson, who usually takes a bus from her home near 78th and Broad Streets to her job as a Wendy's manager at Willow Grove Park, caught a lift from her father. But only half of her eight-person morning work crew made it in, and she had less hope for the high-school students on the night shift.
"I feel SEPTA just let us all down," said Jackson, adding that she is taking the union walkout personally. "When they go on strike, they hurt the people who support them."
The strike began after union leaders walked out of negotiations late Sunday night at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Center City, where talks had been based for six days.
Patrick Battel, SEPTA's lead negotiator, said that SEPTA "wanted to freeze the clock" and keep negotiations open throughout the wee hours. In an interview yesterday afternoon, he said union negotiators wanted to keep on talking, but would not put off the strike to do so.
"I'm not going to talk to you while you're holding a gun to our heads," Battel said. "The reason for this strike was their intransigence."
Battel said the three chief roadblocks were medical insurance premiums, changes to prescription drug plans and work rules.
A union spokesman disputed that, saying work rules had been settled over the weekend.
"The work rules were decided" on Sunday, said Bob Bedard, spokesman for Transport Workers Union Local 234. "That is the only reason we agreed to move on to the economic issues."
Moments after the strike began, SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney accused Local 234, which represents 5,000 SEPTA employees, of rejecting an offer that he said most workers would jump on. It included annual raises totaling 9 percent over the course of the proposed three-year contract, but required all workers to start contributing 5 percent of their medical insurance costs.
Maloney said the strike would inflict a "cruel hardship" on the area and its residents, "especially the very young, the very old and the entire business community."
Jeffrey Brooks, president of Local 234, said his members were standing firm against SEPTA's health-care proposal.
When asked what he would say to SEPTA riders, Brooks replied: "I've said it to them time and time again. We didn't cause this strike, we didn't want this strike, but we will not have our health care gutted."
Brooks said the union would contribute to health care only if it were assessed as a flat percentage of an employee's pay. Workers have fought premium payments by accepting paltry raises in the past, he said. The top hourly rate for bus drivers, SEPTA's largest job classification, is $21.54, ranking SEPTA drivers 13th among counterparts in other large transit systems.
Battel said SEPTA had not completely closed that discussion, which he said first surfaced months ago, but that there were many problems with it. For instance, he said, it was unfair to require a single person to pay the same premium for health care as a married person with children, whose care would be more expensive.
"The other thing they've said is that management won't pay it," Bedard said, adding that pay percentage language "is not in any of [SEPTA's] proposals."
Workers were prepared to hold out indefinitely, Bedard said. Union leaders "have 100 percent support from the members," he said.
Contact staff writer Larry King at 215-345-0446 or email@example.com.
Contributing to this article were staff writers Kellie Patrick, Daniel Rubin, Larry Fish, Keith Herbert, Vernon Clark, Susan Snyder, Joseph A. Slobodzian and Angela Couloumbis.
Chief Roadblock to Settlement
What SEPTA wants:
For all current union workers, some of whom pay no medical premiums now, to pay 5 percent of the cost of their medical insurance. This would amount to $3 to $12 per week, depending on the worker's plan and the size of the worker's family.
For workers hired after the contract is ratified to pay 10 percent of their medical insurance cost.
What the unions want:
Medical premium contributions of 1 percent of a worker's pay.
A requirement that management employees also pay 1 percent of salary toward medical insurance.