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Bus service in Greater Vancouver will be free for three days beginning Tuesday, as the region's transit company attempts to win back its 400,000 riders after a 123-day strike.

Moments after the government introduced legislation to end the strike by 3,400 workers yesterday, transit officials said the Seabus between downtown Vancouver and the city's north shore communities would resume on Saturday, and all other transit services would be back by early Tuesday morning.

The legislation passed last night.

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Regular fares would be charged over the long weekend on the Seabus and on the Skytrain, which was not affected by the strike.

But a "three-day fare holiday," which will cost the transit authority $2-million, will begin Tuesday.

Dave Stumpo, president of Coast Mountain Bus Co., which operates the transit system, told reporters he was "absolutely pleased" the strike was over and the buses will be running again.

Union officials also said they were satisfied with the provincial government's legislation. It provides for a wage increase of 8 per cent over three years plus a $1,000 signing bonus. The existing contract provisions will continue in effect for the contentious issue of part-time workers while a union-management committee tries to resolve the matter. If no agreement is reached by the end of the year, binding arbitration will be imposed.

The legislation also provides for employees to share in any "efficiencies" achieved through contracting out, a provision that transit officials anticipate will enable them to make significant changes in transit operations.

"We are very pleased the government recognized the role of the employer to contract out under certain circumstances," said Pat Jacobsen, the head of Translink, the regional transit authority.

Labour Minister Graham Bruce said in the legislature the government was acting reluctantly, only after both sides indicated the government should intervene.

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"Imposing collective agreements is not something that my government will ever take lightly," he said. "It's only something to be contemplated after all other options are exhausted," he added later.

The current legislation is the second time in a month the government legislated workers to return to their jobs. A few weeks ago, the government imposed a cooling-off period in a bitter nurses' dispute.

The legislation, formally called the Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act, implements most of the provisions outlined in a report issued on June 14 by mediator Vince Ready.

Coast Mountain spokesman George Garrett said the transit company needs five days before starting up service in order to complete safety checks and clean 1,100 vehicles.

Managers have kept the Seabus ferries in shape during the strike but could not do the mechanical maintenance that was required on the buses because work on a hoist is a union job, he said.

George Puil, a Vancouver councillor who serves as the chairman of Translink, said the back-to-work legislation will force the transit authority to ask the provincial government for some money. "Translink has no choice but to seek provincial support on its critical financial position," he stated in a news release.

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Although they welcomed the legislation, union leaders blasted the new Liberal government for taking so long to settle the dispute.

Len Ruel, area director of the Canadian Auto Workers union, said workers were willing to adopt Mr. Ready's report more than a month ago. He accused the government of dragging its feet on the issue at the expense of the public and workers on behalf of the employer.

NDP Leader Joy MacPhail, who had proposed a private-member's bill to impose the Ready report, was also critical of the provincial government for waiting with the bill.

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