Codiac Transpo lockout's end greeted with 'euphoria'

Codiac Transpo workers and riders are eager to see buses rolling around greater Moncton soon, after the city and drivers' unions hammered out a tentative deal to end the five-month-long lockout on Tuesday evening.

Tentative deal could be firmed up by Friday

Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc said he hopes the union and the city can put the five-month-long lockout "behind us." (CBC)

Codiac Transpo workers and riders are eager to see buses rolling around greater Moncton soon after the city and the drivers’ union hammered out a tentative deal to end the five-month-long lockout on Tuesday evening.

The two sides still have to ratify the deal, so the details on what ended the protracted dispute are not available, but wages had been a key issue.

"I'm optimistic," Mayor George LeBlanc told CBC News.

"I think that we have really a great chance to get this done and put it to bed and get things moving again. So I'm hopeful that we'll be in a better position to say after Friday."

Council will make its final decision on the deal on Friday, said LeBlanc.

Union members will also take a vote on Friday. A union spokesman declined to comment until then.

Lucien Sivret, who is a member of the Moncton Transit Citizens Action Group, said there was "euphoria" in his house when the news broke of the settlement.

Sivret, his girlfriend and his daughter all took the bus daily so they have been forced to walk or take cabs for the past five months.

"I did end up buying a car about three weeks ago, so just a little bit too late for me," he said.

"It was about a hundred dollars a week only to get to work, and an extra 40 to 50 dollars a week for other things. So about $400 to $500 a month, which is equal to a car payment when you think about it."

Still, Sivret hopes the deal will be ratified by the end of the week and said he won't complain if it takes a few weeks to get the buses back on the roads.

"We're anxious but we do understand there's service to be done on the buses and maybe some training with the drivers," he said.

Service could resume within 3 weeks

The city said in a statement on Tuesday night that it could take "several weeks" before the buses are running regularly.

"We're saying two to three weeks now, but we'll see how that plays out," city spokesman Paul Thomson told CBC News on Wednesday.

"We're hoping we can reduce that time if at all possible. Bearing in mind that we have to ensure the safety of our customers."

After the lengthy down time, the vehicles will have to be thoroughly checked over, Thomson said.

Another delay in returning to service is that routes have been changed, and drivers will have to be trained in the new ones, he said.

Knowing the lockout could soon be over is a big relief for Karen Haley, a bus rider for more than 25 years. She described the tentative deal as "the best Christmas gift."

It means she can stop relying on her aunt to drive her around, she said.

"Going to finally get back our independence. I know people say, 'I don't mind, I don't mind bringing you around,' but after a while, I mind, it's losing our independence."

There are still doubts, however, said Haley.

"It's not a done deal yet. It's not signed in ink, or blood, whichever way you want to put it that it's officially going to be buses on the road."

Drivers pleased

While passengers are eager to get on the buses, many drivers are thankful that they will be sitting behind the wheel again soon.

Alan McGrath, the treasurer with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1290, said it has been a long five months and workers want to put the lockout behind them.

"Go back to work and see the people that we saw every day. I've been driving for over 11 years and you kind of get to know the people, they're like family, right," he said.

"You kind of look forward to seeing them again and finding out how things are going. It's been a long time so it'll be good to be back."

McGrath said he hopes the buses will be back on the roads before Christmas.

Moncton locked out about 80 bus drivers, mechanics and service people on June 27.

The transit workers had been without a contract since 2010.

The city’s previous offer would have paid Codiac Transpo drivers $52,000 a year by 2017. The union had been holding out in hopes of being paid $60,000 per year by 2018.

Both sides have already agreed to annual pay hikes that would bring the bus drivers' salaries to $51,000 a year by 2017, up from $44,000.