George Sweeney, MHA for Carbonear - Harbour Grace
District and Opposition Government Services Critic , is raising concerns
about school bus safety and wants Minister Dianne Whalen to provide answers
related to seatbelts, overcrowding and bus inspections.
"The Minister has a responsibility to ensure the buses
children travel on are safe and it is also her responsibility to provide
proof that everything is being done to make these buses as safe as
possible," said Sweeney. "The opposition has asked questions on these
matters in the House of Assembly and the answers have not been very
One issue the Liberal MHA raised was the possibility
of putting seatbelts on school buses based on new evidence that they may
help save lives. "I want to know if the Department is aware of this new
research and the fact that some other provinces and states are starting to
move towards seatbelts on school buses. The Minister failed to address this
issue when it was raised in the House this session."
There have been reports in the province that at least
one school board has adopted an airline industry model for their student
transportation. They deliberately allocate less seats than students with the
assumption that a certain percentage of students will not show up each day.
"While such a model may work well for airlines, I have concerns that it
might lead to dangerous overcrowding when used in student transportation. I
want to know if the Minister is aware that some boards may be using this
policy, if she agrees with it and if she will be taking action to prevent
overcrowding. It is simply not acceptable to overcrowd seats or have
students sitting on the floor of school buses."
The Liberal MHA is also concerned that the high price
of gas in the province may cause some private contractors and school boards
to be unable to do proper maintenance on school buses. For this reason it is
important to be sure that bus inspections are being done in comprehensive
and timely manner. "Even if this is a remote possibility that they are not
being done, government has a responsibility to consider this matter and
bring it to the attention of the public if any problems are being
discovered. Given the serious problems which have existed in other
departments because of backlogs, this is a question which has to be
Sweeney says he realizes these are tough questions on
a sensitive matter but he feels obliged to ask them given the fact that they
involve the safety of children. "I would rather ask these questions and be
proven wrong than to stay silent when there is even a remote possibility
children would come to harm that could have been prevented."