URB hearing hears 2 sides of van argument

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Gary Hudson of Hut's Transit sits at a table prior to the commencement of evidence at a URB hearing. Seated at the table next to him were Lisa Doucet and Steve Stoddart of the Tri-County Regional School Board. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

By Tina Comeau

THE VANGUARD

NovaNewsNow.com

 

Gary Hudson told a Utility and Review Board (URB) hearing in Yarmouth that he wears his heart on his sleeve and his interest in driving high school students to and from the downtown on their lunch hour in his Hut’s Transit’s vans is solely to help out the downtown businesses and the students.

At $2 a return trip, he said, it’s certainly not about the money.

He is only driven by good intentions.

At the conclusion of a two-hour Feb. 5 public hearing, the URB’s Dawna Ring, who chaired the hearing, said she wanted more time to digest the evidence and arguments she heard. She said she would render a decision in writing, but did not give a timeframe.

Hudson wants his motor carrier licence to allow him to make a stop at the Yarmouth high school on Forest Street to pick up and drop off students.

But the Tri-County Regional School Board is opposed to Hudson’s application for the sole reason that he would be transporting students in 15-passenger vans. The school board says because it is prohibited from using this type of van, it can’t support someone else transporting students in this type of vehicle during the school day, even if it is during the students’ lunch hour.

“Our case is around a vehicle that is prohibited for our board,” said school board superintendent Lisa Doucet. “We’re not here to question Mr. Hudson’s business, the way he runs his business, his reputation or any of those things, it’s around the safety and the van for us. And we’re certainly not here to cause any hardship on the community and the businesses.”

However, while the school board said it is prohibited from using 15-passenger vans itself, it couldn’t say during the hearing where that directive originates from. The school board said they assumed the directive came from the URB, but Ring said it hadn’t come from the URB and neither she, nor staff with the URB’s Motor Carrier division, could say where the directive originated from. All that was known is these vans cannot be used for school-sanctioned functions.

But Hudson says his business is not a school-based activity. Rather, it is a service he wants to provide through his business. And he thinks it is a safe option for students, who otherwise would be walking downtown or piling into vehicles to get there.

If the school board is so concerned over student safety, then what is it doing to prevent six or seven students from climbing into some cars during their lunch hour, Hudson asked Doucet.

“My question is what are you doing to stop it?” said Hudson.

Doucet said she wasn’t there to discuss those types of issues, although Ring said it was a fair comment.

“Right now we’re not doing anything to stop it,” Doucet said, although she added later in the hearing that vehicles that students drive to school are not prohibited vehicles to a school board, unlike the 15-passenger vans.

Hudson also asked what the board was doing to address students walking along Haley Road where there are no sidewalks and a very narrow shoulder to get to other businesses during their lunch hours, something he suggested isn’t safe.

“That hasn’t been brought to my attention as an issue,” said Doucet. “No one has asked me, no one has talked to me about what my plan is.”

“I’m asking you,” said Hudson.

“I don’t have a plan right now, right at this minute, sorry,” she said.

The hearing was open to anyone who wanted to make a presentation to the URB. Joe Habib, the owner of Jake’s Pizzeria, acknowledged that the school board raised some good points regarding safety as they spoke about the vans, but he spoke in support of Hudson’s application.

“I have a son that goes to high school and I’d rather see him get into a (van) than somebody else’s car,” Habib said. “There’s seatbelts, it’s insured and it’s a good guy running his business. That is number one for all of us, the safety of those children.

“He’s providing a very safe atmosphere,” said Habib, who described himself as “a parent who cares.”

But just as Habib wore his parent hat, he also wore his business owner hat. He said Yarmouth has been going through difficult times and he said moving the high school from Parade Street to Forest Street has had an impact on downtown businesses.

“He’s trying to make a better place to live in, trying to give people a chance, a hope . . . here is a man who is trying to better the area,” Habib said about Hudson.

Still, Steve Stoddart, the school board’s director of operations, said the board has to be concerned about the potential for student injury, should an accident occur when students are riding in these types of vans.

“This is about the van that is being proposed to use,” Stoddart said, saying what if someone comes along and runs into the van? He said if students were injured in an incident he wouldn’t want to be sitting across from the parents saying the students were in a vehicle that the school board is prohibited from using.

 “Absolutely Mr. Stoddard, that’s a great point,” said Habib, but he added, “I’d rather them run into a van than a child on the road.”

There was some discussion during the hearing about an instance when Hut’s Transit was observed loading more than 14 students into a van to be driven downtown. A video that was taped on a security camera at the high school was shown during the hearing, although it was very difficult to see the students getting into the van given the distance of the van from the video camera. After watching it, and rewinding it to watch it again, it was concluded on this specific date that 16 students had gotten into the van.

Hudson said if his van was overloaded he took responsibility for that. But he also said when it was brought to his attention he ensured that it never happened again.

Hudson had been transporting students downtown at the start of the school year for about six weeks. But when he was told by an inspector with the Motor Carrier division of the URB that he couldn’t transport students between 12 and 1 p.m., because his licence doesn’t allow this, he stopped making the trips to the high school (which, Hudson noted, had been supported by the school principal at the time and vice-principal). Instead, he brought the application to the URB to allow it to have the final say.

Hudson added if the school board is concerned with being responsible for the liability should something happen, that concern is misplaced because it is Hudson’s business, not the school board, that would be responsible for that.

He said in the end he hopes the URB will side with him. He said his vans are equipped with seatbelts and fire extinguishers, they are regularly inspected and maintained, and in 17 years he’s never had an accident.

“I’ve never taken a vehicle on the road in the 17 years I’ve been in business that are unsafe,” he said, adding he only wants to help the community.

“It seems whenever somebody tries to do something good, someone comes along and steps on you.”

 

 

 

 

Organizations: Utility and Review Board, Tri-County Regional School Board

Geographic location: Yarmouth, Forest Street, Haley Road Parade Street

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Dan Earle
    February 06, 2013 - 16:13

    I am on Hutt's side. If this van is licensed to carry the general public including seniors, teens, mothers with children, etc. then it is safe enough to carry kids from the school to downtown. Once the teens are on the sidewalk they are on public property anyway. I certainly see them in "unsafe" conditions walking all over town on roads with out sidewalks. Also, the school system does not care about the nutrition part. They won't be in school by the time the sugar catches up with them so the board will not have any responsibility. Also, he shouldn't even have to apply to the URB to offer his service anywhere.

  • YarmouthDude
    February 06, 2013 - 12:55

    I agree with Joe Habib. That there is even discussion around this going on is sickening. Anyone in the town of Yarmouth who wants to try an earn an honest dollar is shot down. Of course the only ones who object are people with nice comfy jobs at the school board. Pensions, benefits, sick days, summer's off and job security... must be nice eh Mr. Hudson?

  • Richard Wallace
    February 06, 2013 - 12:52

    I completely agree with Mr. Reeves comment. We are being so over protected by so called “do gooders”, our children will soon become unable to make their own decisions!

  • Phillip Buchanan
    February 06, 2013 - 11:46

    In regards to Gary Hudson transporting students from the high school to down town, whats wrong with that, When the students leave the school grounds as far as i am concerned, the school has no say what the student does and what transportation they use . The bus is ok to be used to transport the general public around town,why not the students, The speed limit in town is 50km an hour, not 100 kms like on the highway. The chances of an accident happening is very slim. If the school is so concerned about the students why dont they do something about all the illegal parking that is being done on the school grounds and on Forest Street , more chances of them being hit there than on the bus!!!!

  • Former Yarmouthian
    February 06, 2013 - 09:44

    I am curious as to why the school board is concerned with this when this allows the students a safe way to get downtown and back. I would rather these students get in Mr Hudson's vehicle than stuff another student's car with a bunch of them. He is not transporting them to Halifax or the valley, he is taking them to the downtown area for lunch. If a student brings their parents van to school, there is no regulation in place to stop them from loading it with their friends to go downtown. Unless Mr Hudson has a negative safety record that we are unaware of, I think the school board needs to mind their own business and allow parents to make these judgement calls for their kids.

  • Lynn Surette
    February 06, 2013 - 09:21

    Hutt's should be allowed to provide transport before and after school too. Sltudents using public transit is a viable and sensible option. Can you imagine students in Halifax or any other city being banned from using public transit because the school board worried about lawsuits. The more students and other citizens use public transit the fewer will drive or be driven around town. Next students will be banned from fast food outlets at lunch time because the food doesn't meet school nutritional standards. Oops shouldn't put that idea in their heads.

    • Caring Parent
      February 06, 2013 - 20:13

      I agree with Lynn Surette about allowing Hutt's transit to provide transportation to and from school. We live on Baker Street and after multiple attempts to talk to the School Board and Bus Garage, we were told there was no bus for my son to go on. Their rude responses were "it's only 1 more km then the old high school". That's great on a nice day but when they have the schools open on a day with a temp of -15 with a windchill of -25 it's a long cold walk. Shame on the TCRSB once again for their "Not" putting students first!!!

  • Frank Reeves
    February 06, 2013 - 08:32

    I would field the question: Are students not members of the general public when they are off school grounds? If so, if the provided public transit vehicles are good enough for the general public then so they should be good enough for those students. Since the public transit operator seems to feel this is a viable operation, having already tried it I cannot see why his license should not be extended to that area and time frame. Seems to me this is a bunch of small dogs arguing over an equally small fire hydrant. Hopefully that remark is not too indelicate for Yarmouth's notoriously delicate sensibilities.