Party bus companies in B.C. may soon face stiffer regulations and penalties, as the government says it will undertake a review of the licensing framework of the vehicles to identify ways to further strengthen the ability to monitor them and impose sanctions.
"Should there be a narrowing – a specific type of licence? These are the questions we're asking as we undertake the review," Minister of Transportation Mary Polak said Friday.
In February, paramedics found Ernest Azoadam, 16, dying at a Chevron station in Surrey after riding on a party bus. RCMP say drugs or alcohol might have been a factor in his death, as open liquor was found in the vehicle, which had stopped at the station. Under B.C. law, it's illegal to have open liquor in any vehicle.
The young man's death was only the latest party bus incident involving minors and alcohol. Party buses – often large stretch SUVs or coach buses turned into a dance club on wheels – are often used for weddings, proms, birthdays and stag parties.
A Globe and Mail story last month revealed that the party bus industry is largely unregulated, and policies requiring adult supervision on buses differed from one company to the next. There is also no standard set of procedures for screening for alcohol and drugs, or first-aid training for the chaperones sometimes required to be on board, or for the drivers.
Ms. Polak said it's too early to comment on what specific types of regulations could be imposed on the industry.
Julie Raymond's 16-year-old daughter, Shannon, died after riding on a party bus in 2008. According to court documents from a case related to the incident, Shannon boarded a party bus at a friend's house with a group of teenagers after ingesting ecstasy and drinking rum. The group continued to drink on the bus.
"We're cautiously optimistic that any actions that the government takes will certainly go a long way in preventing another death," Ms. Raymond said.
Ms. Raymond added that the government should require the person who rents the party bus – often a parent when minors are involved – to be physically present on the vehicle. She says chaperones and drivers should also be required to complete high-level first-aid training.
Ms. Polak says the issue of chaperones is part of the larger question surrounding the industry: "If the operators are in compliance with the law, there wouldn't need to be a chaperone because there wouldn't any alcohol involved." She said the registrar and deputy registrar of the Passenger Transportation Branch are meeting with Lower Mainland party bus operators next week to stress that they must comply with provincial regulations.
Tommy Cuscito, owner of Vancouver Party Buses and Limousines, says he welcomes regulation. "Something's got to be put down and complied with when you're talking about teens going on these buses," he said.
In terms of required first-aid training, he said: "There's not a parent or business that will be able to prevent kids from doing what they do prior to boarding a bus.… It's a matter of minimizing it, and making sure we get to it."