Regulator satisfied Stock's culture of lies and secrecy is behind it
School-bus company executives apologized this week before Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board
Stock Transportation has convinced the province's regulator it has sufficiently changed its operations in Nova Scotia to warrant only a handful of relatively minor changes to how it runs its school buses.
Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board member Dawna Ring told senior company executives Wednesday she was convinced the culture of secrecy and lies that existed under Stock's former general manager of Eastern Canada operations, Troy Phinney, has ended.
"I am fully satisfied that that culture did not go above Mr. Phinney," Ring said as three days of regulatory hearings examining the company's school-bus licences wrapped up.
"I am pleased to see the seriousness with which the company has taken these concerns. I'm pleased to see that they've accepted responsibility for the lack of oversight and structure that existed while those things took place."
Ring told company officials, who have been present throughout the hearing, that she originally wanted to restrict the Stock's ability to carry out longer school field trips but has reconsidered in light of the testimony of the past two days.
She was also impressed senior executives from Stock's parent company, National Express, came to Halifax to take part in the hearings.
On Monday, the president of North American operations, Matt Ashley, apologized to the board for the grief Stock has caused by operating with only a loose regard for the law.
Successive senior company officials put the blame squarely on Phinney, who left Stock last summer and now works for a competitor, First Canada.
A November report from the Utility and Review Board found Stock had been running a charter business without a licence and outlined how it had violated safety rules, obstructed inspectors, falsified records and demanded that drivers work beyond permitted hours.
The Utility and Review Board also heard this week about concerning safety violations, including one case where Stock chartered buses to Scouts attending a jamboree, even though it did not have a licence to do so. A provincial inspector stumbled upon some of the buses being loaded with prohibited items, including propane tanks.
Stock is the largest school-bus operator in the province, running buses for the Halifax Regional School Board, the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board and the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial.
Ring said Wednesday she was "impressed" with the company's efforts to change things and make sure managers are more accountable for their actions.
Among the changes recommended by Ring, and agreed to by the company, is a special meeting with drivers to reinforce the message that breaking the rules or going around the law is unacceptable.
Ring encouraged the company to be explicit that things have changed since the days of Phinney.
"Go through each kind of scenario and let them know they're never, ever, ever, ever expected by Stock to operate contrary to the laws and regulations. Ever," she said.
"Never assume that because a situation looks like your supervisor approved it that you're expected to do it. You're not. You're never expected to do it."
Stock has also agreed to other measures recommended by the Utility and Review Board, including:
- Updating the drivers manual to emphasize safety.
- Making that manual available to school boards.
- Creating a business card drivers can carry in their wallets with the company's 1-800 phone line for whistleblowers.
- Adding a non-unionized driver to the occupational health committee.
- Making it mandatory for drivers who work also elsewhere to inform Stock of their overall driving hours.
Company executives have promised to complete those changes within six months.