Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board: Our objection to PEI Carrier's Application to EUB for Permit to use 15 passenger vans

Raymond Gorman Q.C. Chairman
Energy and Utilities Board
P.O. Box 5001
15 Market Square, Suite 1400
Saint John, NB
E2L 4Y9

Via email:,,

January 8, 2012

Dear Mr. Gorman:

We are Isabelle Hains and Ana Acevedo of Bathurst, New Brunswick. We are writing to object to the application by Advanced Shuttle Services Ltd. of Prince Edward Island, to set up a daily shuttle service, using 15 passenger vans, between PEI and NB.

Four years ago on January 12, 2008, our sons Daniel Hains and Javier Acevedo were killed in a 15 passenger van collision along with five other members of the Bathurst High School Phantoms basketball team. Had we known what we know today about 15 passenger vans we would never have allowed our boys to be passengers in that type of vehicle and our sons would still be alive today.

As a result of our sons' deaths, 15 passenger vans were banned for student use in New Brunswick. They have also been banned in Nova Scotia and Quebec, and it is our understanding that they have been banned in PEI as well.

It is incredible to us that, on the eve of the 4th anniversary of our sons' deaths, the EUB would even consider the possibility of allowing Advanced Shuttle Services Ltd. to provide a lower level of safety for inter-city transportation services targetting students by using 15 passenger vans. In terms of passenger safety, 15 passenger vans are not equal to the safety provided by the charter buses used by Acadian Bus Lines.

This is a public safety issue and the EUB cannot ignore the fact that in New Brunswick, of all places, there is a heightened awareness and sensitivity to the use of 15 passenger vans for transporting groups of people, especially students. The Boys in Red tragedy is a constant reminder that we should expect nothing less than the best when transporting human beings.

Our objection is based on the following four concerns:

First, and most important, we object to the proposed use of 15 passenger vans for this new shuttle service because countless studies and research into the use these vehicles have proven that the they should never be used to transport humans.

There is an alternative vehicle that is now being used, right here in New Brunswick, called a Multi Function Activity Bus (D270). The MFAB is built to the same standard as Yellow School Buses (D250) and in August 2008, six months after our sons' deaths, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), a leading developer of standards and codes, announced the publication of the new CSA D270 MFAB, which is intended to be used as a safer alternative to vehicles not classified as a school bus.

We believe that if the EUB is considering granting Advanced Shuttle Services Ltd. a permit, it should only use CSA approved, MFABs (D270s) to transport human beings - not a 15 passenger van which is universally known as a "death trap on wheels".

15 passenger vans were designed to haul freight to be carried on van's floor. The van in which our sons were killed was originally used to haul linen before it was purchased by the Bathurst Van Inc. to transport students. Manufacturers decided to install seats in these cargo vans, turning them into passenger vans to increase sales to consumer groups such as churches, day cares, schools, universities and air port shuttle services.

The automotive engineers never redesigned these vehicles to meet higher safety standards to transport passengers. Their high centre of gravity increases when loaded with passengers and cargo.

If five or more passengers are riding in these vans, the likelihood of rollover increases dramatically, because the rear extends four to five and a half feet beyond the rear wheels.

Loading of five or more passengers plus luggage and other personal belongings increases instability during emergency manouevres such as sudden turns to avoid pedestrians, vehicles or animals on the road.

Increased load on these vehicles changes the centre of gravity upward and rearward, causing the van to experience rear tire slide, commonly known as fishtailing.

Fishtailing in turn, increases roll overs and devastating crashes. Fishtailing is a dangerous stability problem not noticeable to an average driver but which becomes all too apparent in emergency steering situations, such as when the van drifts on to the shoulder of a roadway.

In emergency manouevres, a sharp turn could cause a loss of control at high speeds.

15 passenger vans do not have laminated side windows (safety glass) and their large side window openings increase the likelihood of passenger ejection.

The rear emergency escape door is blocked by a passenger seat and critically, the tire pressure needs to be frequently monitored according to the weight of the vehicle.

Among many other design defects, they have single rear wheels, rather than dual wheels, and their roll over protection is non-existent: the body protection is minimal because of the unibody shell design.

The National Health and Transport Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the United States has issued four safety advisories on 15 passenger vans, more than any other vehicle. The most recent was in October 2010 after 10 people were killed in two separate accidents. Since 2010, there have been dozens of fatal 15 passenger accidents in the United States and Canada. Because of the way these vehicles are marketed as a cheap and economical mode of transport, the victims are almost always students, musicians, farm workers, church groups, seniors, and children in day cares.

Second, we are concerned about the licensing of drivers for transporting large groups of people in a 15 passenger van, which is considered a "bus" under the NB Motor Vehicle Act. It's bad enough that Advanced Shuttle Services Ltd. is proposing to use a vehicle with the worst safety record in the world, but we have to ask, what kind of driver training do their drivers have? The fact that is that anybody over the age of 19 who can complete a written Class 4 exam followed by a road test can be qualified to drive 15 passenger vans and transport large groups of people from PEI to NB for the rest of their lives without ever having to take another test. There is no training, no drivers' abstract required, no medical, no refresher courses. In comparison, large charter buses like the ones used by Acadian Bus Lines, and Yellow School Buses used to transport students are driven by professional, class 2 licensed drivers with B endorsement who drive buses for a living. They undergo intensive drivers training and ongoing skills development. Their "B" endorsement means they have to renew their license every two years. What kind of license do these 15 passenger van drivers have?

Third, you should be aware of developments on the federal and provincial stage that point to a recognition there are safety problems with 15 passenger vans:

1) Following pressure from our Van Angels group, in June 2010, then Federal Transport Minister John Baird committed to a federal 15 passenger van safety review which is ongoing.

2) Also, at the same time, the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) has undertaken a cross Canada study of 15 passenger vans.

3) Further to this, in March, 2011, as a result of pressure from our Van Angels group, the NB Department of Education struck a Committee on Extra and Co-Curricular Activity Transportation that is charged with developing recommendations towards safer student transportation policies.

Fourth, we believe that the only reason Advanced Shuttle Services Ltd. has applied for a permit from the EUB is to take advantage of a protracted labour dispute between Acadian Bus Lines and its unionized drivers, a situation which is temporary. Once the labour dispute is over, service between PEI and NB will resume as before.

While Acadian Bus Lines is, no doubt, not as efficient as its previous operators, it is the only inter-city bus service we have. Perhaps this is the time for the EUB to seriously think about permitting transport carriers like Advanced Shuttle Services Ltd. to use only the safest alternative vehicle on the market - one that is promoted by the Canadian Standards Association - the MFAB (D270) which is designed with passenger safety in mind.

As parents whose boys were killed in a tragic 15 passenger van collision four years ago, we are compelled to object to this application for permit. The students whom Advanced Shuttle Services is targetting are the same children who, exactly four years ago, stood shoulder to shoulder with students across Canada and the world in mourning the deaths of seven basketball players from Bathurst. These same students are now in their first, second, third and fourth year of university or community college and they need a safe way to get home to their families in villages, towns and cities across New Brunswick and PEI. The last vehicle they should be riding in is a 15 passenger van.

We hope to hear from you soon regarding this objection to Advanced Shuttle Services Ltd.'s application for a permit to provide 15 passenger van transportation services between PEI and NB.

Yours sincerely,

Isabelle Hains and Ana Acevedo

Premier David Alward, Province of New Brunswick
Minister Claude Williams, NB Department of Transportation
Minister Robert Trevors, NB Department of Public Safety
Minister Jody Carr, NB Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
Yvon Godin, Member of Parliament, Acadie Bathurst
David Keenan, Advisor, NBEUB
Lorraine Légère, Board Secretary, NBEUB