The Party Bus ran into an open-liquor charge in Newfoundland, but it ran into even bigger problems in Nova Scotia — it was refused a licence to operate by a regulator that said the company didn’t do its homework.
The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board denied a licence to the St. John’s-based company in August — saying it failed to prove market demand for its services.
“There is very little concrete evidence of demand … in Nova Scotia, especially when this evidence is weighed against the already largely unused capacity of the opposition (companies),” said the board’s Aug. 13 decision.
Rod Sheppard, co-owner of Party Bus, described Nova Scotia’s approach as “anti-competitive.”
“We have nine (buses) currently operating in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where there’s a population of a 150,000 people and they have three smaller (buses) in a population of 400,000,” Sheppard said Thursday. “But the board decided that there’s not enough room for us.”
Party Bus also faced some questions about alcohol use on its buses during a June hearing in Nova Scotia. Sheppard told the board “it has happened on occasion” in Newfoundland.
Its decision said, “Mr. Sheppard testified that open liquor is not allowed on the Party Bus in Halifax, and while there are laws in Newfoundland prohibiting open liquor in any moving vehicle, he acknowledged ‘it has happened on occasion,’ adding that people can drink before they get on the bus and once they are on the bus, they party, and they just listen to their music and ‘do whatever it is they want to do on the Party Bus within our rules.’
“He did acknowledge, however, that there is nowhere on their website stipulating that alcohol is not allowed on the Party Bus in Nova Scotia.”
The board did not cite alcohol as a reason for denying Party Bus a licence to operate in Nova Scotia.
The topic also came up in testimony from one of the four local companies opposed to the Party Bus application.
One company manager testified he was concerned about pricing and the presence of alcohol on Party Bus vehicles, “which is a concern to the industry, as liquor is not permitted, and could put the drivers in a bad situation,” said the decision.
Sheppard said Thursday alcohol is an “industry-wide issue.”
“People have been getting married on limousines for 40 years and they’ve always had a bottle of champagne.”
Sheppard pointed out he’s referring to alcohol consumed by those of legal drinking age.
“This is an industry-wide issue. It happens in Nova Scotia, it happens in Newfoundland, it happens right across Canada, it happens across North America,” he said.
“In Newfoundland, the limousines and party buses allow alcohol on board for 19 and over. That is in the media right now. I’m not denying that.
“It does happen and we are meeting with the RNC (Friday), as a matter of fact, to discuss it.”
Party Bus has been in the news since a Saturday night complaint to the RNC about an under-age passenger drinking alcohol on a company bus.
Police charged the bus driver with having open liquor in a vehicle.
Open liquor is illegal in any vehicle under the Liquor Control Act. The legislation also sets out fines ranging from $250 to $500.
Last March, Party Bus applied for motor carrier licence to transport passengers in Nova Scotia.
There, the limo and bus business is regulated by the provincial utility and review board.
Although the company was granted a temporary 90-day licence, the board said this is no guarantee that a permanent licence will also be granted.
Based on its temporary licence, Party Bus told the board it bought two buses worth more than $350,000, hired part-time drivers and accepted bookings and deposits.
The Nova Scotia board suggested this was unwise.
“It is unfortunate that the applicant did not conduct due diligence prior to purchasing their vehicles, relocating personnel and making the move, to set up operation in Nova Scotia,” it said in its decision.
The board said it would “not take into consideration the fact that the applicant has purchased vehicles in the hope of obtaining a permanent licence.
“Otherwise, everyone would do the same, thwarting the objectives of … the (Nova Scotia Motor Carrier) Act.”
The board said the “most compelling evidence” in denying Party Bus a licence came from a local company.
It described its business as “in trouble,” in need of new equipment and with a declining number of customers.
Party Bus, which started in 2007, operates four party buses in Newfoundland and two buses in Moncton, N.B.
It has 12 part-time employees.