Province clamps down on party bus industry

New licensing requirement will make it easier to supervise vehicles

Transportation Minister Todd Stone

Transportation Minister Todd Stone

Relatives of a teenage girl who died after taking drugs on a “party bus” applauded changes made Thursday to tighten licensing regulations for limousine operators.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone announced an overhaul of limousine licensing that will require each limousine or bus with perimeter seating, to go through its own inspection and hold a licence.

This replaces a “general authorization” limousine licence that allowed party bus operators to work anywhere in B.C. and add vehicles to their fleet at any time.

Stone said strict licensing and display of a special plate will allow police to know where party buses are operating so they can be checked.

The changes are to take effect by May, before high school graduation events that are a mainstay of the party bus business.

Danielle Raymond and her mother Julie attended the announcement, calling it part of the reforms they have sought since Danielle’s sister Shannon died in July 2008 after drinking and then boarding a party bus where she took the street drug ecstasy.

Shannon’s death was the first in a series of tragedies with party buses, which have expanded to 4,000 vehicles in B.C. Danielle said her own research showed companies advertising open bars on board.

“We’re happy with it,” said Danielle of the new rules.

“We’re still going to be watching it carefully to see what happens. If I see something that’s concerning me, I’ll be right back in touch with the minister.”

One of the requirements is for party bus operators to acknowledge that serving alchohol will not be part of their business.

That could make it easier for bus operators to be fined. “It remains to be seen if that’s going to change or not.

“Basically their whole business operates around facilitating the minors who use them to get hammered, for lack of a better term,” Danielle said.

Still, she was happy with the announcement. “This is very meaningful for us. This is what we’ve been fighting for.”

The measures are part of what they’ve been seeking for seven years.

However, the steps don’t go as far as California, which requires another adult to supervise the partying section of the vehicle if there are minors on board. The State of Washington is considering same.

She likes the idea of putting party buses in the same category as limousines or taxis which will put them under more scrutiny.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing said the same thing earlier.

Requiring special permits and licence plates will make it easier for police to enforce the rules.

Bing noted that drinking in vehicles is completely illegal in B.C. anyways, whether it’s adults or kids.

“That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to stop.”

“Certainly, we’re quite pleased with these steps and moving forward,” said Julie.

In February 2013, 16-year-old Ernest Azoadam died on a party bus in Surrey. In November of that year, a 17-year-old girl from Abbotsford was dumped at a truck stop an assaulted after a trip on a party bus.

NDP transportation critic George Heyman echoed the Raymonds’ suggestion to consider requiring chaperones on party buses to make sure under-age drinking or drug use don’t occur. That’s part of pending legislation in Washington state, where party buses are allowed to serve alcohol to those old enough to drink.

Heyman said the government should also require safe drop-off locations for the buses, which now drop off passengers at bars and then pick them up later to go to another bar.

“One of the roles of the chaperones would be to ensure that no drinking takes place on party buses, period,” he said.