Crackdown coming for party buses

Maple Ridge family welcomes more enforcement from government

The recent death of a teen on a party bus is pushing the province to consider a crack down on the entire industry.

“I want to make it very clear that I am willing to suspend the licences of companies that break the law,” said B.C.’s Transportation Minister Mary Polak.

“As a mother, and as Minister of Transportation, I will not tolerate unsafe practices that put our young people at risk.”

Polak’s promise of more scrutiny came one month after Ernest Azoadam collapsed on a party bus in Surrey.

The 17-year-old was rushed to hospital, but never regained consciousness.

The exact cause of his death is unknown, but police found evidence of alcohol on board the bus.

Ministry staff are set to meet with party bus operators on Thursday to make sure companies understand their responsibilities and obligations.

Polak stressed that a failure to comply with regulations by allowing passengers to drink alcohol on board will have serious consequences for the bus companies.

“Quite simply, failure to comply will result in the suspension of their license,” she added.

“We are also reviewing the licensing framework to identify ways to further strengthen our ability to monitor party buses and impose sanctions.”

Julie Raymond, whose daughter Shannon died in 2008 after taking ecstasy and drinking alcohol on a party bus, is optimistic there will be  changes.

“It’s too late for Shannon and Ernest, but hopefully whatever measures are taken will prevent another family from losing a child,” said Raymond, a Maple Ridge resident.

Raymond and her other daughter Danielle have asked to attend Thursday’s meeting with transportation ministry staff. Raymond does want the entire industry to get shut down, but to see proper regulations in place to prevent deaths.

“I hope that the changes are reasonable enough that they will provide a safe place to be. You can’t just shut the businesses down. The intent is to put safeguards in place. They certainly aren’t there now,” she added.

Raymond wants bus drivers to have first-aid training and all companies to require chaperones when underage passengers are on board.

The District of Maple Ridge, meanwhile, has asked the RCMP to step up enforcement locally.

The district’s substance misuse committee is also applying for a federal grant to educate parents about the risks of underage drinking and its effects on brain development. Part of that campaign could include education about party buses, which are popular with suburban teens and young adults.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie said parents need to know it’s not OK to condone and facilitate underage drinking.

“You would never think of putting alcohol into a baby, but quite frankly, folks, your baby is still growing until they are 19 and even older,” she added.

“You are still impacting their full growth potential and their reasoning skills.”

Ashlie has also contacted B.C.’s ministry of health to suggest similar awareness be included in their harm reduction strategies.