The party bus industry received a stern reminder from police and the province last week to keep alcohol off their rolling discos as graduation season approaches.
After six years of tirelessly lobbying the province to regulate the burgeoning industry, Julie Raymond and her daughter Danielle believe they are finally being heard. They are set to meet with Transportation Minister Todd Stone on June 11.
“Danielle and I no longer feel that we are alone and that people are finally realizing that what we have been saying over the past six years is in fact the truth on how the majority of the industry operates,” said Raymond, whose daughter Shannon died on July 26, 2008 after taking two ecstasy pills and drinking alcohol during a birthday party for a friend on a party bus. She was 16.
Shannon’s death was the first in a spate of tragedies involving party buses in Metro Vancouver, an industry that’s since expanded to 4,000 vehicles across B.C.
In February 2013, 16-year-old Ernest Azoadam died on a party bus in Surrey.
Last November, a 17-year-old girl from Abbotsford was dumped at a truck stop and beaten up after a trip on a party bus.
Following the May 20 meeting, B.C.’s Passenger Transportation Registrar promised a crackdown on operators found flouting the rules. Operators were also reminded that their advertising cannot feature open containers of alcohol in a company-operated vehicle, since drinking onboard – no matter how old you are – is illegal. As well, B.C. liquor stores will be providing an informational brochure on “party buses” to customers, beginning next week.
Though pleased with the promise of a focused police blitz, the Raymonds want real rules in place to regulate the industry, similar to legislation passed in California, which requires chaperones and penalizes violators with stiff fines.
Even the taxi and limousine industry has asked the province to tighten party bus rules. Right now, anyone with a general authorization licence can drive a party bus, which is similar to a charter bus. But taxi drivers face tests, a criminal record check and paper work to acquire a special operator’s licence. Raymond believes party buses should be removed from the general license category.
“Enforcement is a good first step. However, in order for this industry to really clean up, there needs to be changes to legislation,” said Raymond.
The Raymonds are not alone in calling for legislation. On Monday, George Heyman, NDP MLA for Vancouver Fairview, made a private members’ statement, urging the government to stop turning a blind eye to blatant violations.
“It’s time to listen to the voices of other jurisdictions that are being more proactive than British Columbia …” Heyman said in the legislature.
“We can do better than simply saying that if there’s open alcohol on a bus, you’re subject to $234 fine and a liquor pour-out. It is time to bring in specific regulations.”