Crummell says province provided ample time for operators to comply
© Star photo by Frank Gale
School buses pick up students at Stephenville Middle School.
Dave Callahan of Central Service Station in St. George’s says the “no retrofit rule” relating to school buses prevents operators like himself from purchasing anything but new buses.
He said this is a rule that has been rammed down the throats of operators, and now they don’t even have the School Bus Owners Association Newfoundland and Labrador to represent them.
Callahan said operators are now in mid-stream of their contracts, so the supply of affordable buses is crucial to them.
“I’ve bid on my contracts the way we (operators) always did by going away to the mainland and picking up the best used buses you could afford,” he said.
Callahan said if he purchased a bus from Quebec, a province that doesn’t have a stop arm in its legislation, he can’t purchase it because the retrofit rule states this has to be done in the factory.
He said there has been no problem with operators in getting the stop arms or striping put on, but the new rules say if those elements aren’t factory installed, operators can’t touch the buses.
“We have a rule put on us now by our registrar that says we can only buy brand new buses already certified by the government,” Callahan said.
Last year, Callahan tried to buy five 2012 Internationals. When he tried to get them licensed two days before school opened, they were refused licenses because the buses didn’t have a stop arm and a marker lamp on the side.
“Now I’m faced with no spare buses and, if I have a breakdown or a defect, that one can’t go on the road. I don’t have the ability to send a spare.”
He said one piece of legislation says operators can use buses up to 12 years old, but this new rule by the registrar says they have to buy new.
Dan Crummell, minister of Service NL, which is responsible for government standards, said the school buses being operated in Newfoundland and Labrador are indeed required by legislation to meet the Canadian Standards Association’s D250 standards.
He said key stakeholders and legislators from across the country developed these standards, and that nine out of 10 provinces follow them.
“The D250 standards document is pretty significant and contains little things and the big things to make sure school buses are safe for our children on the roads and the highways in Canada, because Canada certainly has unique weather, versus other jurisdictions in North America,” Crummell said.
Callahan said because of this no retrofit he couldn’t provide the level of service to the schools that he would like.
“I’m running an unsafe situation that’s being condoned by government,” he said. “I fought vehemently against this regulation and told (government) what it was going to cost.”
Callahan said the rules mean a bus that could be used in New York City or in downtown Toronto cannot be used in Newfoundland. He said operators do not earn the money required to be able to afford new buses, even though they would love to have them.
“(Government) dropped this rule on the bus industry unilaterally with no negotiation, and despite opposition from the bus industry they went ahead with it anyway,” he said.
However, Crummell said in 2009 officials within the Motor Registration Division became aware that a number of buses that were being brought into Newfoundland and Labrador were not in compliance with the D250 standard.
“They were being brought in from Quebec and that province is the only jurisdiction in Canada not part of this arrangement, and from the U.S., where the 52 states could probably have 52 manufacturing standards — who knows?” Crummell said.
When government realized what was going on, Crummell said the decision was made to meet with the School Bus Owners Association and have that discussion. He said school buses could be retrofitted during a three-year period, from 2009 to Jan. 1, 2013. Anything after that would have to come into the province already D250 qualified, but operators had ample opportunity to do the refits and plan ahead when they bid on contracts.
Crummell said there was some push back from the industry, but most operators’ buses are now in full compliance with the standards.
Callahan said he would buy new buses if government gave him the variant from what he could afford to what he needs, but that he can’t perform miracles.
“My view is that this government is in denial. My company has been involved with school busing for 50 years but I can’t continue like this and I’m trying to find my way out of this industry,” Callahan said.
While Crummell said he couldn’t comment specifically on Callahan’s situation, but said if he was an operator he would make sure to bid enough on contracts to cover the costs.
“Obviously that is what other contractors have done,” said Crummell. “If you have to have certain equipment, then you have to buy that equipment. To be competitive you have to base your bid on that.”