Bathurst moms object to vans in proposed shuttle

Two Bathurst mothers are criticizing a P.E.I. company's proposal to use 15-passenger vans in a new shuttle between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

PEI company wants to use same type of vehicle involved in Boys In Red crash

Two Bathurst mothers are urging the Energy and Utilities Board to prevent Advanced Shuttle Services from using 15-passenger vans in a proposed shuttle between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Isabelle Hains and Ana Acevedo lost their sons, Daniel and Javier, in the January 2008 van accident that killed seven students and a teacher’s wife outside of Bathurst.

Hains and Acevedo have become outspoken critics of 15-passenger vans and have lobbied for safer student travel since the Bathurst High School van tragedy.

"It is incredible to us that, on the eve of the 4th anniversary of our sons' deaths, the EUB would even consider the possibility of allowing Advanced Shuttle Services Ltd. to provide a lower level of safety for inter-city transportation services targetting students by using 15 passenger vans. In terms of passenger safety, 15 passenger vans are not equal to the safety provided by the charter buses used by Acadian Bus Lines," the mothers said in a letter to the Energy and Utilities Board.

"This is a public safety issue and the EUB cannot ignore the fact that in New Brunswick, of all places, there is a heightened awareness and sensitivity to the use of 15 passenger vans for transporting groups of people, especially students. The Boys in Red tragedy is a constant reminder that we should expect nothing less than the best when transporting human beings."

The Bathurst mothers posted the full letter to the regulatory board on their website.

Advanced Shuttle Services, a Summerside-based shuttle company, has applied to set up a daily bus service that would connect New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

David Anderson, the owner of Advanced Shuttle Services, said his company would like to have the service operating by mid-March.

The Energy and Utilities Board will allow groups to file submissions until early February. A hearing could be held in late February into the company’s request.

The company would like to use two, 15-passenger vans to shuttle people between the two provinces. The vans would leave Prince Edward Island and make stops in Port Elgin, Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton.

Advanced Shuttle Services operates a shuttle service between Halifax and Prince Edward Island.

‘Last vehicle they should be riding in’

The Bathurst mothers are listing four specific arguments against the P.E.I. company’s request.

Primarily, Hains and Acevedo are concerned about the use of the 15-passenger vans and pointed to the use of an alternative vehicle called a Multi Function Activity Bus.

They are also raising questions about driver training, as well as "developments" at the federal and provincial government levels that point to possible "safety problems" with the vans.

As well, the two argue the service is only needed temporarily during the Acadian Lines lockout.

Safety issues addressed

Anderson told CBC News Monday the safety concerns raised by the two mothers were valid.

But Anderson said the newer model 15-passenger vans have stabilizers that the model in the Bathurst crash didn't.

"It's called electronic stability control," Anderson said. 

"It works off the anti-lock brakes. It will reduce rollover by 50 per cent. The computer takes over and stops that fishtail if it does happen."

The new models also include shoulder belts, he said.

The Advanced Shuttle vans are inspected twice a year, and his drivers must keep logs.

Anderson said if the New Brunswick Utility board demands he use different multi-use vehicles in his runs, he would be willing to do that as a condition of the licence.

Regular advocates

This isn’t the first time Hains and Acevedo have led a public charge for greater vehicle safety.

The two mothers have taken similar concerns to the federal government and they have called for stronger rules for student transportation in New Brunswick.

The seven Bathurst High School basketball players and local teacher were killed on Jan. 12, 2008, when their 15-seat 1997 Ford Econoline F350 Club Wagon struck a tractor-trailer on Highway 8 in winter conditions while returning to Bathurst after a night game in Moncton. Eight of the 12 people in the van died.

After a lengthy investigation into the crash, a Crown prosecutor determined in November that "there were no grounds to lay criminal charges against anyone in relation to this crash."

An RCMP report found the van involved in the collision was in poor condition. Another report by Transport Canada found the driver had been awake for 16 hours and was driving in poor weather conditions.

As the fourth anniversary of the van tragedy nears, Hains and Acevedo said they believe the P.E.I. company should not be allowed to use 15-passenger vans in the proposed shuttle.

"As parents whose boys were killed in a tragic 15-passenger van collision four years ago, we are compelled to object to this application for permit. The students whom Advanced Shuttle Services is targetting are the same children who, exactly four years ago, stood shoulder to shoulder with students across Canada and the world in mourning the deaths of seven basketball players from Bathurst," the mother said.

"These same students are now in their first, second, third and fourth year of university or community college and they need a safe way to get home to their families in villages, towns and cities across New Brunswick and PEI. The last vehicle they should be riding in is a 15 passenger van."