The “party bus” industry has got another black eye in B.C. after Surrey Mounties acting on a tip stopped one such bus in that city and discovered 40 intoxicated minors on board.
This was on Aug. 31. As a result, the RCMP and the city’s bylaws enforcement department are targeting underage drinking in chauffeured vehicles in Surrey.
Constable Richard Wright said police had received a tip that teens and young adults were drinking on party buses and in limousines in Strawberry Hill.
“It was alleged that youth and young adults were paying a fee and being permitted to consume alcohol on board,” he said. Wright said that beside finding the 40 intoxicated passengers, all between the ages of 15 and 18 years old, police also found open liquor inside the bus.
“We do believe there have been other instances in the past,” he said. “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.”
Wright said 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.
“The driver did. The driver and the owner are not the same person.”
Authorities also conducted a “follow up” with the owner of the party bus, he said, “reviewing the expectations of compliance with the Motor Vehicle Act and Liquor Control and Licensing Act. Police have not released the name of the company as no charges have been laid. “At this time what’s being done is the Surrey traffic enforcement and bylaw enforcement units are following that party operator very carefully and ensuring compliance moving forward,” Wright said.
“For this incident, none of the youth were ticketed and they all had parents called, and the investigators made sure all the parents were present before any of the youths were released to their guardian.”
Sergeant Ian MacLellan, Surrey RCMP traffic services commander, said police will continue to target this and “are also bringing this information to the public in order to arm parents with information about how youth may be accessing alcohol, in support of parents’ efforts to keep their kid safe.”
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.
Party buses occasionally make headlines, mostly negative. 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.
“This case is a tragic example of what can happen when under-aged teens are allowed to get drunk on ‘party buses,’” Crown prosecutor Winston Sayson said at the time. “The bloody and senseless violence in this case screams for greater regulation and monitoring of party bus operators.”
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.
On April 17, 2019 the provincial government brought in new regulations governing the party bus industry. Claire Trevena, minister of transportation and infrastructure, said these will “help ensure our kids arrive home safely at the end of the night.” Operators are now required to have a safety monitor on board, with first-aid training, when minors are passengers, and must also obtain consent forms from parents and guardians of minors.
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.
Time Limousine Service Ltd., which operates in Surrey and elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, is one company that explicitly states on its website that alcohol and illegal drugs are not allowed in its vehicles and if any are found, “the contract will terminate immediately and no refund will be issued.”
“It’s extremely disheartening to see the recent story regarding the underage drinking that occurred on a party bus over the summer,” manager Kash Virk wrote the Now-Leader. “The recent change in the ruling with unaccompanied minors and party buses is definitely something we support. This issue not only reflects poorly on the company involved but everyone in our industry. We do hope that the Passenger Transportation Board does take measures in dealing with this strictly and accordingly.”