TORONTO - Commuters breathed a collective sigh of relief after Ontario's legislature took just 30 minutes during a rare Sunday sitting to order Toronto's 9,000 transit workers to end a surprise strike that idled the country's largest fleet of subways, streetcars and buses for almost two days.

All parties supported the bill, introduced personally by Premier Dalton McGuinty, who had called the emergency session just 24 hours earlier under intense pressure to stave off workweek commuter chaos.

"That sounds very good. I'm very happy," Anna Belenkova said as she walked past a still-closed downtown subway station just minutes after the law passed.

"I didn't go out (Saturday) just because of it and many parties got ruined."

In introducing the bill, McGuinty thanked the province's politicians for agreeing to return to the legislature and acting "in the best interests of all Ontarians."

He also pleaded with commuters not to take out their frustrations on transit personnel.

"I ask that upon restoration of TTC services, users extend their usual courtesy to workers there for the invaluable they provide," McGuinty said.

"Courtesy and goodwill are the foundations upon which we should all seek to build."

Both opposition parties supported the lightning-fast passage of the bill, which imposes fines on individuals and the Amalgamated Transit Union local if they don't heed the back-to-work order.

With the bill passed, the transit system was expected to be up and running by Sunday evening, and at full strength by Monday's commuter rush begins - a welcome relief to the 1.5 million people who use transit weekdays.

"It's good news, good to hear that," said John Keller, who faced a 75-minute walk to work Monday.

The city was caught flat-footed when the transit workers walked out with barely any notice at midnight Friday night after rejecting a tentative contract reached a week ago by almost two-thirds of those voting.

"It's been much more difficult to get anywhere - a lot more walking and calling on people to drive us around," said another pedestrian, Michael Goncalves. "It will be a lot easier (now) to get to school."

It appeared the 3,000 maintenance workers were angry at what they saw as a possible loss of jobs due to contracting out of their work, something the transit commission denied was happening.

The union had said it could not provide 48 hours notice of the strike because it feared for the safety of members at the hands of irate transit users. stranding thousands of people Friday night and again on Saturday.

Mediated talks on Saturday produced no settlement on the issues, which will be subject under the legislation to arbitration.

Labour Minister Brad Duguid, who called public transit the "backbone" and "lifeblood" of Toronto, was careful to say the Liberal government respected the collective bargaining process.

"We encourage the TTC and its unions to continue bargaining and to reach mutually acceptable agreements," Duguid said.

"At the same time, we cannot stand by while the dispute shuts down the vital transportation system in Toronto, affecting millions of people and businesses."

Latest From ...