Party bus operated by a Lower Mainland firm.

Booze-soaked party buses get warning from B.C.’s transportation minister

Threat to suspend licences follows teen's death in Surrey in February

Transportation Minister Mary Polak says party bus operators in B.C. have been warned they must obey laws that ban liquor consumption by their passengers or face costly licence suspensions.

But at the same time Polak says the province is reviewing the current regulations to check whether they still make sense.

A commercial vehicle like a limousine or a bus is considered a public place in B.C. so boozy revellers on board are drinking in public contrary to the Liquor Control and Licensing Act and can be subject to a $230 fine and liquor pour-outs. Any drinking in a moving vehicle is also against the Motor Vehicle Act and it’s also a violation of the operators’ licences under the Passenger Transportation Act.

“I have made it very clear to the operators I have absolutely no difficulty pulling their licences if it’s found any one of them is not in compliance,” Polak said.

That message was delivered to operators at a meeting Thursday by officials of B.C.’s Passenger Transportation Board.

It comes several weeks after 16-year-old Ernest Azoadam died in Surrey after riding on a party bus where alcohol was plentiful despite operator claims it doesn’t permit alcohol or drugs.

The stretch SUVs or buses are often outfitted with nightclub lighting and may act as rolling parties, particularly for those under age, rather than deluxe transportation to an actual event.

“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,” Polak said. “It’s very troubling.”

She said her immediate concern is underage drinking by teens and the associated risks, particularly as grad celebration season approaches.

The party bus business isn’t a big industry, but Polak said it’s growing and it’s time for a broader review of how the laws apply and whether changes are justified.

Legalization of alcohol use on limousines or party buses – strictly for adults – is one option that might be considered, she said.

“Is there any benefit?” she asked. “I don’t know the answer but it’s a question worth asking.”

Asked whether the province’s shift to tougher roadside administrative penalties for impaired driving, rather than criminal prosecution, may have fueled the industry, Polak said she doesn’t think so.

“This industry has been growing prior to the 0.05 [blood-alcohol level] legislation and the changes that went with that,” she said. “I think it’s more a reflection of society’s ideals arround alcohol and their own decisions on what’s appropriate and what isn’t.”

A provincial review of other jurisdictions found no consistent or obvious approach to regulating party buses elsewhere.

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