Sunday night, three people were on a conference call that paved the way to a resolution of Philadelphia's weeklong transit strike.
"When they got tired and they got exhausted and they were like, 'Oh, it's not going to work,' I was like, 'We gotta keep doing this,' " Evans said in an interview Monday.
Those closest to the negotiations said Evans, favored to be chosen on Election Day as Pennsylvania's next representative from the Second Congressional District, had been a key player throughout, the rare person who could talk directly with all the major players involved and act as a behind-the-scenes intermediary for the state's power players.
"He's been over there trying to walk Willie and these guys through it," Pasquale Deon, SEPTA's board chairman, said in an interview Friday. "He's a real help."
Six years ago, Evans held the state House 203rd District seat but had been booted from chairing the House Appropriations Committee after opponents accused him of using his position to direct spending toward his West Oak Lane district. But Evans, an 18-term veteran of the State House, was among the first to support Tom Wolf in his bid for governor in 2014, and he did the same for Jim Kenney when he ran for Philadelphia mayor in 2015. Both men were winners, and Evans was suddenly close with two of Pennsylvania's most powerful politicians. Wolf appointed Evans his representative to SEPTA's board.
When the strike began last week, Evans, 62, had a direct line to the governor and the mayor.
"I talked to the governor every single day," he said. "The governor and the mayor were fully in tune to all that was happening in this process."
Evans has a history of supporting transit through legislation going back to 1991. And he has another important contact: Deon said he has considered Evans a friend for 35 years. Evans has advocated for SEPTA in Harrisburg, Deon said. In March, the SEPTA board chair, a Bucks County Republican, threw a fund-raiser for Evans' successful Democratic primary challenge to embattled U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.
Richard Lazer, Philadelphia's deputy mayor for labor, who was frequently in contact with negotiators during the strike, said Evans brought a low-key calm to the sometimes-acrimonious negotiations process.
"The style is him trying to find a common ground," Lazer said. "He's got a very cool demeanor about him."
Brown, the union president who used to be a trolley operator, and Knueppel, a former SEPTA mechanical engineer, had the shared trait of being hands-on people, Evans said, and he tried to build from that commonality. He said he also emphasized his own youth in Philadelphia, riding the now defunct Route 23 trolley and the subway, to remind negotiators of the real people hurting because of the strike.
Resolving the walkout before Election Day was a lesser priority than getting the system working for riders, Evans said. He never directly told Brown, whose union supports Hillary Clinton, or SEPTA representatives that the strike could make it difficult for likely Clinton voters to reach the polls.
He didn't have to say it, Evans said.
"I always believe you never have to repeat the obvious," he said. "I think it's sometimes foolish to think that people don't realize the obviousness of their situation."
In previous strikes, U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Phila.) has been a central figure. He was deeply involved in these negotiations, too, maintaining a regular presence at the Sheraton Philadelphia at 17th and Race Streets, where the negotiations took place. This time around, though, Evans was also a big contributor.
"Dwight is putting a lot of time in," Brady said. "He's staying in touch with everyone, and he's doing a great job."
When the strike ended Monday and the news cameras came to TWU headquarters to cover the conclusion, Brady stood toward the back of the room.