Todd Stone firm on refusal to regulate party buses despite clear risks to teens

BC will not regulate party buses, says Transport Minister Todd Stone, even though they are implicated in the death of least two BC teens and subject to a wave of regulation across the United States.

Stone told Vancouver Fairview MLA George Heyman today his government will rely on more education and enforcement to rein in an industry that faces intense oversight in many other jurisdictions. This is a step back by a government that promised action when Mary Polak was briefly transport minister before the 2013 election.

But Stone’s narrow focus on existing regulations ignores the clear need to require minimum standards of company owners and drivers, who are flouting the rules in round after round of ruthless rate-cutting in this wide-open industry.

Vancouver city council called for action on the issue in January, Maple Ridge followed soon after, and the issue will be debated Thursday in Whistler by delegates to the annual meeting of Lower Mainland Local Government Association.

What kind of regulation is required? I propose a comprehensive approach in this brief prepared for municipal elected officials.

Stone was responding to Heyman’s challenge to take action as Julie Raymond and her daughter Danielle sat in the gallery. Danielle’s sister Shannon died in a party bus incident in 2008 and the Raymond’s have become tireless campaigners for government action.

Today, however, it was clear they will have to wait longer. Here’s the Hansard transcript of Heyman’s exchange with Stone:



G. Heyman: In July 2008, 16-year-old Shannon Raymond died after travelling with friends on a party bus where alcohol and the drug Ecstasy were used in combination.

In February 2013, 16-year-old Ernest Azoadam was found dying at a Chevron station in Surrey after riding on a party bus. He was transported to Surrey Memorial Hospital, where he later died.

We are on the cusp of graduations, a time when teenagers celebrate a transition to their future. While party buses are a popular choice for these celebrations, even some of those in the industry say that operators too often place youth in vulnerable positions by failing to provide protection and by allowing them easy access to alcohol and drugs.

Will the Minister of Transportation commit today to immediate action to protect young people from the virtually unregulated party bus culture before another preventable tragedy robs someone of their bright future?

Hon. T. Stone: I thank the member opposite for his question. I want to also take this opportunity to acknowledge and welcome the Raymond family, who are here in the chamber with us.

As a father of three daughters myself, I can only imagine what it must feel like as a parent to receive that phone call that your child has been involved in an incident of this sort. Certainly, it’s tragic when lives are lost. I think it’s very clear to reiterate for all British Columbians that the consumption of liquor in any vehicle in British Columbia is illegal.

Furthermore, with respect to these commercial charter vehicles, which are regulated and licensed through the Passenger Transportation Board, I think it’s very important that we take every opportunity we can with respect to these commercial charter vehicles, which are regulated and licensed through the Passenger Transportation Board, I think it’s very important that we take every opportunity we can to remind these companies of their obligations. Their obligation is to ensure the safe transport of their passengers.

Now to that end, there have been two meetings between the 30-plus commercial charter vehicle companies in the province and the Passenger Transportation Board, where the PTB has made very clear to these companies what their obligations are. I certainly, as the minister responsible for the Passenger Transportation Board, am going to ensure that those obligations continue to be described and enforced with these companies.

Finally, as the member rightfully has pointed out, we are approaching the very busy grad season. To that end, I have had a number of conversations with the Attorney General. Together, we are going to ensure that our two ministries work collaboratively on awareness and education, and indeed work with law enforcement partners and other stakeholders, like ICBC, to ensure that the operators are aware of their obligations and, ultimately, to ensure the safe transport of all passengers here in British Columbia.

Madame Speaker: Vancouver-Fairview on a supplemental.

G. Heyman: Unfortunately, words in the absence of action are cold comfort to families who’ve lost a loved one. We’ve heard the Minister of Jobs talk about how education and awareness clearly haven’t done the job in protecting workers’ health in mills, and I would submit that it won’t do the job here either.

Following Ernest Azoadam’s death, the former Transportation Minister promised to review regulation in order to increase the safety of the industry. She said: “It’s kind of tough to swallow that operators are saying, ‘Look, it’s not our fault,’ when their advertisements in many cases imply alcohol is going to be part of the celebration these folks are going to be paying for.”

There are around 400 party bus companies that operate in B.C. without even the level of regulation that applies to limousines and taxis. California has recently passed laws to protect under-age passengers from harm and to end the practice of dumping sick or distressed youth in isolated and dangerous locations. The state of Washington is looking at passing laws.

Shannon Raymond’s mother and sister are in the gallery with us today. They’ve e-mailed the Minister of Transportation several times to ask for regulations to protect young people from unscrupulous operators without even the courtesy of a meaningful response. Will the minister commit to the Raymonds today that he will regulate party buses before another senseless tragedy occurs?

Hon. T. Stone: Again, I think it’s important to underscore the different actions that have been taken on this particular front over the last number of years. I don’t think anyone in this chamber would say otherwise that it is critical that these operators understand what their obligations are to the people that they transport.

The Passenger Transportation Board actually held a meeting at the end of March and during that meeting met with 36 licensees from the Lower Mainland to clarify their responsibilities and emphasize that under no circumstances whatsoever can liquor form part of their services — no circumstances whatsoever. Offences include consuming alcohol in a public place, including commercial vehicles; operating a motor vehicle while there is liquor in the motor vehicle; and permitting a minor to consume liquor in a place under his or her control.

Again, we are going to ensure that there is a coordinated campaign of awareness and education in this upcoming busy graduation season so that through law enforcement and other stakeholders — like ICBC; municipalities are an important partner in this as well — that we’re all working together to ensure that all British Columbians know what the law is and that the operators understand clearly that their number one obligation is to ensure the safe transport of their passengers.

British Columbians know what the law is, and that the operators understand clearly that their number one obligation is to ensure the safe transport of their passengers.