With contract negotiations at a standstill and tensions running high, full-time drivers for the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) are due to walk off the job beginning Friday.

“We don’t want to strike, but after five long years . . . we are left with no other option,” said VTA drive Richard Townes, who is in his 26th year working for the company.

VTA drivers who are prospective members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) have been in contract talks with Transit Connection Inc. (TCI), the management company that operates the buses, for nearly a year. The two sides have been unable to find accord on wages, seniority perks, safety regulations and other issues.

Drivers voted to authorize the strike a month ago, but Bruce Hamilton, vice president of the ATU, said TCI led them to believe they were willing to go back to the bargaining table, and the strike was postponed.

“We were ready to walk out Memorial Day,” Mr. Hamilton said, speaking to the Gazette by phone from a taxi on his way to the Island Thursday afternoon. “This time we aren’t backing down.”

A closed-door meeting among drivers and the union representative was planned for Thursday night.

A notice went up on the VTA website earlier in the week about possible service interruptions in the event of a strike. The public transit authority employs about 35 full-time drivers and runs bus route in every Island town, carrying more than a million passengers a year.

Summer drivers are not expected to join the job action, if there is one.

“The VTA has 23 seasonal drivers and management personnel that are not part of the bargaining unit that will be driving during a strike situation . . . the bargaining unit is comprised of year-round vehicle operators only,” the statement said.

The notice also said priority will be given to Routes 1, 13 and Tisbury Park & Ride.

“We are hoping to provide service on at least 70 per cent of our routes or more. There may be service during the day and reduced service at night,” it said.

At a town hall meeting held Saturday to inform the public of what to expect in

the event of a strike, Mr. Hamilton said a handful of community members had volunteered to provide rides to those who rely on routes that may be closed.

He also said funds provided by the ATU and Massachusetts Federation of Labor will be available on a case-by-case basis for the striking workers. He added that there will be picket lines at the Steamship Authority in Vineyard Haven, the Island Queen in Oak Bluffs and Church street in Edgartown.

On Wednesday afternoon, the number 13 bus that runs between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown was jammed with passengers — a mix of summer workers, Islanders and tourists.

Damian, an employee of the Charlotte Inn in Edgartown who did not want his last name used, said he relies on the bus to get him to and from work six days a week. Though his route is scheduled to remain running, he said he will stand with the drivers in the event of a strike.

“Unions are an important part of any labor organization,” he said. “I don’t know what I’ll do . . . but I support the drivers right to strike.”

Greg Dash, a labor relations consultant for TCI, said he thought 70 per cent service would be “enough to keep the Island going, though 100 per cent would be nice.”

But Mr. Hamilton said he is concerned that seasonal drivers will be

pressured into working long and potentially unsafe hours in order to keep the service running.

“They have a history of trying to get drivers to work more hours than is legal,” he said, speaking about TCI. “Their payroll records show that, even in the past when a strike wasn’t on,” he said.

Mr. Dash said he has no plans to return to the bargaining table.

Mr. Hamilton said he and the VTA drivers are “going to be out there as long as it takes.”

“They [TCI] have to have an offer on the table if we are going to end the strike,” he added. He said he believes “enough pressure will be put on the company . . . And they will come back to the table.”

Mr. Dash had another view.

“Once this process gets started, I’m not sure what makes it come to a conclusion,” he said. “And if there is no obvious action that draws it to a conclusion, I’m not sure how long it could last.”