Kamloops bus companies welcome government review of industry

Operators of two Kamloops bus companies are welcoming a comprehensive safety review

By Kamloops This Week

Operators of two Kamloops bus companies are welcoming a comprehensive safety review ordered by Transportation Minister Todd Stone.

The review comes after a pair of serious bus crashes on the Coquihalla Highway in two consecutive years. Neither Thompson Valley Charters nor Canada West Coachlines were involved in the accidents.

“I support it completely,” said Stacey Spencer, vice-president of operations and sales with Canada West.

“I wouldn’t say anything is necessarily wrong… . B.C. is highly regulated.”

Those regulations include driver hours and vehicle safety. Companies undergo routine safety audits.

“Our drivers know you can’t exceed the legal hours of service,” she said.

Canada West operates 21 units out of the city, while Thompson Valley has 27.

Stone told reporters the review will compare regulations with neighbouring provinces and compare safety statistics.

He added it will also look at other measures, such as mandatory rest periods for drivers.

Thompson Valley owner Lou Aldrich said his company recently underwent a national safety-code audit.

“All of us do,” he said.

But, Alrich added, he understands Stone’s rationale in calling for the review after the crashes on the Coquihalla, seemingly without reason. Reports have not been issued on those crashes, which left dozens of passengers in each incident seriously injured.

Aldrich said one of the best safety tools is reporting of problems by passengers.

One possible change to flow from the review is the requirement for seatbelts in motor coaches, which has been adopted south of the border. A 2013 survey of motor coach operators by the B.C. Trucking Association found that most B.C. companies support mandatory seatbelts, and many have already introduced them.

New U.S. government regulations take effect in 2016, requiring new motor coaches to have three-point lap and shoulder seat belts on passenger seats. The U.S. regulation does not extend to transit and school buses, and does not require retrofitting of existing buses.

Stone stressed that despite the two Coquihalla crashes,commercial vehicle crashes in B.C. have declined by 24 per cent in the past decade, thanks to strict licensing and vehicle inspection programs.

Doug Switzer, CEO of national industry group Motor Coach Canada, said most safety regulations are set by the federal government, and consistent from province to province. He said the Canadian industry supports introducing seatbelts.

“Whether or not people will wear them is another issue, but we would certainly support making seatbelts mandatory on all new coaches,” Switzer told CBC radio. “That’s probably the biggest thing we can do to reduce the impact of collisions when they do occur.”

One issue for the industry is enforcement, and whether the driver can be ticketed if bus passengers don’t wear their seatbelts.

Transport Canada’s position has been that school buses are safe with closely spaced, high-back seats that reduce passenger impact in collisions.