The provincial government is highlighting recent “safety improvements” to rules for party bus operators as the holiday season approaches.
Stricter rules took effect on Sept. 16 that require operators to obtain consent forms from parents and guardians of minors, and to have “safety monitors” on board with unaccompanied minors.
The new regulations also came with an increase in fines for those who don’t follow the rules – from $1,500 to a maximum of $50,000.
“In April, we brought in stricter measures, including the requirement of safety monitors on board buses with unaccompanied minors,” said Garry Begg, MLA for Surrey-Guildford, on behalf of Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure on Thursday in Delta.
“Today, we are reinforcing the safety improvements made over the last number of months: higher fines for non-compliance, and additional passenger transportation enforcement officers to perform further inspections,” he added.
This year, the provincial government says passenger transportation enforcement officers conducted more checks than in the past three years combined.
Meantime, the ministry is reminding the public that it is against the law to consume alcohol and cannabis inside a vehicle.
Underage drinking in party buses have made headlines in Surrey in recent months.
Surrey RCMP say in late August, they discovered 40 intoxicated teens on a single party bus in Newton. They had received a tip that teens and young adults were drinking in both the buses and limousines in the Strawberry Hill area.
As a result, the Surrey RCMP and the city’s bylaws enforcement department are targeting underage drinking in chauffeured vehicles in the city.
In that specific case, police say it’s alleged that those on board were “paying a fee and being permitted to consume alcohol on board.”
The bus driver received multiple violation tickets as a result of not having a chauffeur’s licence, having open liquor in the vehicle and more people on board that the 35-person-allowed capacity. Being caught with open liquor in a vehicle in B.C. carries a $180 fine under the Liquor Licence Act.
Surrey RCMP Constable Richard Wright said in mid-September that police believe there have been other instances.
“We have seen the party bus parties spilling out onto the streets and certainly when there’s a large group of intoxicated people, it leads to concerning behaviour and unsafe behaviour in the community and we want to stamp that out,” he said.
None of the youth were ticketed, according to Wright, but all were released to a guardian.
Wright said police advise parents who suspect their children “may be getting involved with dangerous or illegal activity” to contact the Parent Helpline at 604-599-7800.
It wasn’t the first time party buses made headlines in the region.
In 2012, a brawl erupted between Surrey high school grads and a motorist who crossed their path behind a Husky gas station in Cloverdale. The charter bus had been carrying about 50 young people during an after-grad celebration and made a pit stop at the station. Subsequently a mini-van’s windows were smashed, a cloud of bear spray was loosed, rocks were thrown and roughly a dozen cop cars were called to the scene, as well as five ambulances and two fire trucks.
In 2017, a party bus went up in flames in Vancouver. No one was injured. In 2016, a 23-year-old Langley woman died after falling from a party bus in Vancouver.
Party buses must also display valid decals they’ve passed a safety inspection, and failure to comply carries a fine of $318, raised from $81. Moreover, failure to comply with regulations can result in fines from $1,500 to a maximum of $50,000.
-Files from Tom Zytaruk