DAVID HUTCHINSON DAVID.HUTCHINSON@CENTURY21.CA
Nearly $40,000 in fines have gone unpaid by Coast Mountain Bus Company drivers caught blowing through red lights.
But according to critics, that’s nothing compared to the price being paid by other road users at risk.
Since a ticket was challenged in court more than a decade ago, bus operators have not had to pay automated tickets issued after their buses are caught on camera driving through red.
Instead, TransLink requires the bus drivers get retrained. They go back to where they committed the infraction with a trainer to learn the errors of their ways.
In the past five years, there have been 233 instances of bus drivers being caught by red-light cameras.
At $167 each, that totals $38,911.
‘PUBLIC SAFETY ON THE LINE’
Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Association, agreed the matter of unpaid fines was concerning but not nearly as much as the risk to human lives.
“It’s the provincial government that loses out on that $40,000 of revenue,” he told The Province. “I’m surprised the government hasn’t moved to close that loophole.”
Bateman also questioned why bus drivers couldn’t be penalized with both training and a fine.
“Public safety is on the line. I don’t see this as an either/or thing,” he said.
A second infraction could result in a suspension and a third red-light violation could lead to a dismissal.
CMBC drivers are still required to pay fines for traffic infractions issued by officers who pull them over.
Their counterparts in Calgary and Edmonton, however, are responsible for their own fines, whether automated or issued by an officer.
TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel was not aware of any driver that had been dismissed for ignoring red lights.
The training strategy may be paying off because there have been just two red-light infractions so far this year.
That compares with 71 in 2008, 49 in 2009, 27 in 2010, 37 in 2011 and 49 in 2012.
ICBC said there were approximately 31,000 such “safety camera” tickets issued in B.C. in 2012.
SAFETY ‘No. 1 PRIORITY’
Zabel believes the training works and he’s not aware of any changes in TransLink policy in regards to the red-light infraction.
“Our training program is highly regarded and it’s entrenched in safety,” said Zabel. “It’s our No. 1 priority.
“When things do happen, it’s our job to go out there and train employees and make sure they’re driving that bus safely.”
Zabel said the training method is allowed under the Motor Vehicle Act as an alternative to fines.
“Vehicle owners, such as TransLink in this case, are not liable for electronic red light infractions if they can show due diligence and reasonable care in entrusting their vehicles to its drivers,” he said.
“It’s something anybody can apply for under the Motor Vehicle Act,” Zabel said.
The result is a progressive discipline program instead of fines.
‘STRONG DISCIPLINE PROCESS’
Minister Shirley Bond defended TransLink’s methods of dealing with red-light tickets, noting “there is no legal loophole.”
Bond said she had directed staff to examine the matter and was informed it was a “strong discipline process.”
“How TransLink deals with their drivers internally is a matter for them to address,” she said.
“To pursue prosecution . . . would effectively waste scarce court and prosecution resources without the prospect of a successful prosecution.”
'TWO SETS OF RULES'
Bateman, however, doesn’t agree with the alternative allowed by what he calls a “one-off court judgment,” stressing safety still needs to come first.
“What this shows you is that there’s two sets of rules: one set for TransLink and one set for everyone else,” he said. “What gives them the right to have different rules than anyone else?”
Don MacLeod, president of Local 111 in the Canadian Auto Workers that represents bus drivers, did not respond to a request for an interview.