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N.S. utility board takes school bus service to task over operating ‘unlicensed’ charter service

Nova Scotia's Utility and Review Board has taken the province's largest provider of bus services to task in a decision released on Wednesday.
Nova Scotia's Utility and Review Board has taken the province's largest provider of bus services to task in a decision released on Wednesday. Global News

Nova Scotia’s largest school bus operator has been slammed by the province’s Utility and Review Board (UARB) after it determined that the company was operating an “unlicensed” charter service, obstructing investigators, attempting to conceal information about deficiencies or infractions and requiring drivers to work beyond what was allowed on their licences.

In a 180-page ruling released on Tuesday, the province’s regulator has limited Stock Transportation Ltd.’s ability to run a charter service but decided against shutting down the company’s school bus licences — at least for the moment.

Although the UARB was not looking into the company’s school bus licences in this specific decision, the regulator did express concern over the “safety of the public including school children.”

They’ve ordered company officials to appear at a yet-to-be-determined date in order to address “all of the breaches and concerns set out in this decision as they relate to its current school bus services.”

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According to the decision, Stock operates around 500 vehicles, and 98 per cent of its business is centred on providing school bus services to the Halifax Regional School Board, the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board and the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial.

READ MORE: Toronto mother launches lawsuit after daughter with special needs left on bus for hours in the cold

Stock manager was “misleading”

In the ruling, written by board member Dawna Ring, the UARB found Stock to have violated the law in eight separate cases and was ordered to appear before the board in order to give an explanation for its violations.

But it didn’t end there.

During the course of the hearing, Ring wrote that the board found Stock to be in violation of seven other charges that it didn’t know beforehand; including asking drivers to falsify driver logs and violating its licences on numerous occasions.

The board turned a large portion of its wrath on Stock’s regional manager, Troy Phinney, stating that at points, he attempted to portray ignorance about many of the province’s regulations, acts and orders.

The regulator said it didn’t believe his claims of ignorance, arguing that with his eight years in the position of regional manager, that the information he provided them was misleading and “at times deceitful.”

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WATCH: ‘No way that’s safe for little kids’: Halifax parents worry about school bus route changes

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‘No way that’s safe for little kids’: Halifax parents worry about school bus route changes

The decision found Stock to have repeatedly flaunted the orders given to it by the UARB; at points failing to turn over records which their investigators had asked to be provided, including information about incidents of the company providing out-of-province transportation.

One of the trips out of province that the company would have needed to disclose reportedly had Phinney’s two sons on the bus.

Instead of handing the information over by the due date, Phinney instead asked for an extension.

Ring writes that incidents like that indicated that Stock’s evidence “at times was evasive, incomplete, and/or appeared made up as the proceedings advanced.”

READ MORE: Ontario mom ‘terrified’ after video shows daughter, 10, nearly hit by car after exiting bus

‘Do as they are told or they could lose their job’

The most serious violation the board found was that Stock had repeatedly made demands of its drivers to drive after their regulated 16 hours on duty.

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When two of its non-union drivers attempted to resist the demands, the company fired them.

Global News reached out to Stock Transportation Ltd. for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

“The Board finds as the regulator that Stock sent a message to its other employees that they are to do as they are told or they could lose their job,” Ring wrote in her decision.

The board argued that the demands were contrary to the very nature of the “safe operation of these vehicles.”

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