Stock buses found loaded in July with prohibited items

The woman responsible for Stock Transportation's school-bus service in Halifax has told a Nova Scotia regulatory hearing she was 'somewhat floored' to learn the company leased 60 school buses for a Scout jamboree last summer.

Company fined $2,790 for four violations to the rules governing bus service in Nova Scotia

Stock is the province's largest school-bus operator, running buses for the Halifax Regional School Board, the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial. (CBC)

The woman responsible for Stock Transportation's school-bus service in the Halifax area has told a Nova Scotia regulatory hearing she was "shocked and surprised" to learn the company leased 60 school buses for a Scout jamboree last summer.

Former operations manager Amber Glavin testified Tuesday before the Utility and Review Board that Stock's Dartmouth location did not normally run charters, and she only found out about the arrangement days before the jamboree.

She said she was "somewhat floored" as it was not something she had heard about through the company's customer service centre and they were not prepared to do this type of work.

"We weren't licensed to do this and this would normally be something that would have been handled" at a Stock facility in the Annapolis Valley, Glavin told the hearing.

Amber Glavin is now general manager of Stock Transportation. (CBC)

Company officials have testified over the last two days as the Utility and Review Board examines Stock's school-bus licences in the wake of November's scathing report into its charter business that outlined a series of violations.

The company is the largest school-bus operator in the province, and the review board wants to reassure itself that the service is being run safely and properly.

Stock officials have apologized to the provincial regulator, and suggested a former general manager who left the company last summer, Troy Phinney, ran a rogue operation.

Glavin testified that when she raised the jamboree charters with Phinney, her supervisor, he told her the motor vehicle branch of the Transportation Department had issued special permission to allow the service.

That turned out not to be true and the company was fined $2,790 for four violations to the rules governing bus service in Nova Scotia.

Glavin, who has since replaced Phinney, suggested drivers may have felt threatened by Phinney to violate the rules, given he fostered a climate where drivers simply did what the boss ordered.

Dawna Ring is the Utility and Review Board member presiding over the hearing into Stock Transportation. (CBC)

The motor vehicle inspector who issued those citations discovered four Stock buses as they were being loaded with camping gear at the Musquodoboit Exhibition Grounds on July 7, 2017.

In his report, the inspector said he noticed "prohibited items" such as propane cylinders and camp stoves were being loaded, and that large items blocked rear exits.

"I made them unload the bus and gave all the drivers a verbal warning," he said in his report.

Dawna Ring, the Utility and Review Board member presiding over the hearing, noted it as a serious issue and said "in addition to being missiles, a propane tank is a bomb."

Glavin told Ring she was "equally shocked and surprised that our employee had followed through with that, or was going to, and relieved that it didn't happen."

Ring cut Glavin off mid-explanation.

"The thing that stopped it from being followed through is that an inspector came and said, 'Get them off the bus,'" Ring said. "They had been loaded, which meant somebody either felt they didn't have the right to say no or they didn't know better."

School buses 'absolutely' safe

Stock runs buses for the Halifax Regional School Board, the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board and the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial.

Phinney, the former manager, now works for school-bus operator First Canada. First Canada has refused to comment or make Phinney available for an interview. 

Glavin and other Stock officials have tried to reassure the Utility and Review Board that a new corporate structure is in place to ensure managers are accountable for their decisions and there is proper oversight of senior managers.

A provincial inspector called to testify on Stock's behalf, Terry Preeper, said he has seen a change in attitude since Phinney left. Preeper is one of two inspectors who spend at least three days a week inspecting Stock buses to ensure they meet mechanical and structural norms.

He described the difficulty of trying to get information from the company when Phinney was in charge.

"Mr. Phinney in the past, when [we] requested information from him would typically not give it to you," he told the board.

A lawyer representing the Halifax and Annapolis Valley school boards, John MacPherson, asked Preeper whether parents of children who use Stock buses can "be confident that those buses are being adequately and safely maintained?"

"Absolutely," Preeper replied.

Company president Terri Lowe said after the hearing she was pleased Preeper has confirmed Stock's school buses are safe. "Safety is truly our Number 1 priority and that's what we're focused on," she said.

In its November report, the Utility and Review Board found Stock had committed eight violations, including operating a charter service without a licence, resisting or willfully obstructing inspectors, demanding drivers work beyond the driving hours permitted and falsifying records.

Stock's breaches included carrying hockey teams to games within Nova Scotia and out of province as far away as Boston. Some of those trips came after Stock was specifically warned it did not have a licence to carry out those charter operations.

The Utility and Review Board previously ruled the company tried to force drivers to work beyond their legally mandated time restrictions and subsequently tried to cover up the violations.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.