Canadian truckers late this morning voted here to call off their boycott of the Peace Bridge, clearing the way for holiday and festival traffic on the span this weekend.
The move ended a 12-hour protest that had involved more than two dozen trucks at its peak, slowing international commercial shipments without snarling commuter traffic. Canadian police said the boycott had posed no problems and that truckers had cooperated with officers at the scene.
A similar protest action at the Queenston-Lewiston bridge drew only three trucks and ended by midmorning. No problems were reported at either the Rainbow or Whirlpool bridges.
"It went quite well, and the truckers were very, very cooperative," said Ontario Provincial Police Constable Larry Strange.
"We're back to where we were yesterday. We're going to monitor the traffic at all the bridges, and if they come back, we'll go from there."
There was no indication from the truckers that the boycott would be resumed this weekend, he added. The Peace Bridge protest, which involved 25 trucks at midmorning, ended at 11:30 a.m.
Truckers said they believe now that Ontario provincial officials are more sensitive to their demands for lower business costs like those in the United States.
The few truckers involved simply pulled off the highway during a demonstration intended to halt truck use of the bridge but not automobile traffic.
More than 50 truckers were taking part in a blockade at Detroit's Ambassador Bridge this morning, but drivers in Western Canada were refusing to join the "blockade" called by independent truckers in protest of government policies they say hamper their competitiveness with American trucking.
At the Ambassador Bridge entrance in Windsor, Ont., the chief organizer of Canadian Truckers Fighting Back said he felt betrayed by leaders of trucking unions, which represent 150,000 drivers in Canada, because they didn't recognize him during a meeting.
Organizer Wayne Whitney also said Transport Minister Doug Lewis, during a meeting in Ottawa Wednesday, rejected his demands for a reduction in the fuel tax, a five-year tax exemption on new and used equipment and a shorter term of depreciation on rigs for tax purposes.
Independent truckers in British Columbia said they sympathize with their Ontario counterparts but won't be blocking border points.
"We're not going to jump on the bandwagon that would jeopardize our position in British Columbia," said Western Owner Operators Association president Don Tofsrud, noting that the 3,000-member group ended a three-week strike in mid-June and drivers are eager to make up for lost income.
Here, a half-dozen truckers started the Peace Bridge protest by pulling off a shoulder of the road at about 12:30 a.m. The number had grown slightly by dawn, but police said truckers were cooperating with efforts to keep car traffic at a normal pace.
"Truckers are being cooperative. Everyone has access," said Ontario Provincial Police Staff Sgt. J. Ernie Houghton.
Truckers, commuters, tourists, customs agents and police had been waiting all Thursday evening for the blockade.
Some drivers had made plans to cross area bridges before the threatened blockade was to start.
"I think it's good," said a truck driver from Dundas, Ont., as he prepared to cross the Peace Bridge into Buffalo Thursday evening. But he added, "I want to get over before it starts."
The driver, who declined to be identified, said the owner of his rig paid him extra to get it across the border before the blockade, which was two days ahead of schedule.
Independent truckers said they would blockade the border crossings after they became disillusioned at the meeting with Lewis Wednesday. Lewis said he would set up an industrywide task force to study truckers' concerns, and would have a report by Aug. 13. Independent trucker Whitney, who met with Lewis, said the 40,000 non-union Canadian truckers could not wait that long for relief.
Police from both sides of the border met with Peace Bridge authorities, organizers of the Friendship Festival and others Thursday to plan for the blockade.
The independent Canadian truckers say they need help from the Canadian government in the form of lower taxes and fuel prices, among other things, to help them compete with American truckers.
The Canadian truckers complain they have lost $50 million (in Canadian currency) in contracts to leaner American firms. The tax system, including a much higher tax on fuel, makes operating costs 15 to 20 percent higher in Canada, they say.
Speaking during dedication ceremonies for a new Canadian customs center at the Peace Bridge Thursday, Canadian Minister of National Revenue Otto Jelinek said the federal government will "continue to consult" with the truckers "so that we can overcome their concerns."
"The government of Canada is cooperating with the truckers' efforts," he said, adding that the government is seeking improvements that would put Canadian truckers "on a level playing field with their American counterparts."