03/13/2012 05:02 EDT | Updated 05/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Buses, ferries to offer free rides after deal ratified in Halifax transit strike

HALIFAX - Both sides in the Halifax transit strike have approved a new five-year collective agreement nearly six weeks after buses and ferries came to a halt in Atlantic Canada's largest city.

Ken Wilson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508, said 88 per cent of the 644 members who voted Tuesday afternoon approved the deal.

"(We) explained to the membership that as far as we're concerned, this is the best offer we see in the very near future," Wilson said in an interview.

About five hours later, city council issued a release saying it had also ratified the deal, which was reached Sunday with the help of a conciliator.

"I'm very pleased to tell residents that buses and ferries will be running as soon as we can get them ready," Mayor Peter Kelly said in a statement.

As part of the agreement, council said public transit would be free of charge for the rest of the month.

The city said the collective agreement includes a wage package worth $14.5 million over five years. Efficiencies and offsets will save $8.9 million, it said.

Wilson said workers would receive a $4,000 lump sum payment in the first year of the deal, and a two per cent raise in the final four years.

He also said he was pleased with an agreement on scheduling, which was a major stumbling block in negotiations.

"I believe it's workable, it's manageable and it's livable," Wilson said of the scheduling agreement.

The 750 bus drivers, ferry crew and maintenance workers with Metro Transit walked off the job on Feb. 2. About 96,000 commuters a day use the system.

It marked the city's first transit strike in 14 years.

Metro Transit's director, Eddie Robar, said in a statement that ferries should be running by Thursday. Buses were expected to be back on the road by Friday.

Council said transit passes purchased for February would continue to be honoured throughout April.

Wilson said the union realizes the strike has been an inconvenience for many.

"We're looking forward to getting back to work," he said.

"Every city needs a viable public transit system, we understand that."