UARB slams Stock Transportation for 'unlicenced' charter service, demands on driver

Nova Scotia's Utility and Review Board has slammed the province's largest school bus operator for running a charter service without a licence, trying to force drivers to work beyond their legal limits and attempting to cover up deficiencies and infractions.

Provincial regulator pulls company's authorization to run a charter service in 180-page ruling

Nova Scotia's Utility and Review Board has slammed the province's largest school bus operator for running a charter service without a licence. (Marta Iwanek/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's Utility and Review Board (UARB) has slammed the province's largest school bus operator for running a charter service without a licence, trying to force drivers to work beyond their legal limits and attempting to cover up deficiencies and infractions. 

As outlined in a ruling issued Tuesday, the provincial regulator has pulled Stock Transportation's authorization to run a charter service — but stopped just short of yanking the company's school bus licences.

Stock Transportation provides service to the Halifax Regional School Board, the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial.

Although the case under UARB investigation did not concern Stock's licence to carry children to some CSAP and HRSB schools, the regulator suggested it had concerns about all of Stock's school bus licences in light of the testimony. In all, Stock operates about 500 buses in the province.

Company broke the law at least 8 times

The UARB has ordered company officials to appear before it again to "present recommendations to address all breaches and concerns set out in the decision as they relate to its current school bus services."

Stock was found to have breached the law at least eight times, including 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.

Stock Transportation provides service to the Halifax Regional School Board, the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board and the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The 180-page decision is particularly critical of Troy Phinney, Stock's regional manager, describing him as lacking credibility, as well as being evasive under questioning.

'Evasive, incomplete' testimony

In her ruling, board member Dawna Ring summed up Phinney's testimony "to be at times evasive, incomplete and/or appeared made up as the proceedings advanced."

One trip to Montreal included two of Phinney's sons, but the Stock executive couldn't recall that trip when he was confronted about the unlicensed use of the bus by a provincial inspector.
Stock Transportation's regional manager Troy Phinney. (LinkedIn)

In fact, the day after Stock was formally notified UARB would be reviewing information to assess whether the company was operating its charter services in accordance with its licence, which limited its work to only carrying cruise ship passengers, a stock bus left on a trip to Ontario with the hockey team from Dartmouth's Newbridge Academy.

The board used it as just one example of how the company seemed unconcerned about meeting its obligations under the law.

Drivers ordered to exceed maximum safety hours

In what the board considered the most serious breach, company officials pressured drivers, who were returning from a mid-August 2016 trip to move buses from Moncton to northern Ontario, to continue driving well past the maximum 14 hour on-duty time prescribed by law.

Two of the drivers who objected most strenuously about the order subsequently found themselves without work. Kelly Bishop, who worked as a spare driver saw that work disappear. Donald Andrew LePage was first laid off, then after he received a subpoena to appear before the UARB, the company told the board he had been fired.

 The board concluded both had been fired by Stock because they would not drive beyond their safety hours on duty.

"From a regulator's perspective, the Board finds this action a clear and profound message to Stock's 600 employee in Nova Scotia, if not all 1,600 across Canada, being: you are to do as you are told, even if you are directed to act contrary to the safety regulations, or you could lose your job," said the decision.

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.