‘No protection’ for consumers on frozen bus

If you ever make it to the Greyhound Museum in Hibbing, Minnesota, you’ll find an exhibit of the company’s first passenger heating system…

If you ever make it to the Greyhound Museum in Hibbing, Minnesota, you’ll find an exhibit of the company’s first passenger heating system — a wool blanket and a heated brick.

That tradition was resurrected two weeks ago when a bus travelling from Whitehorse to Fort Nelson was forced to stop in Watson Lake to pick up blankets after its heating system failed in minus 30-degree temperatures.

The bus left Whitehorse on December 29 with the heat on but the system soon shut down. Passengers reported they drove 20 hours without heat.

“The lady who runs Greyhound (in Watson Lake) told us what the situation was and asked us if we had any blankets,” said Watson Lake fire chief Dan Miller, who along with the hospital provided blankets for the 15 passengers who asked for them.

“We just have eight or nine, and I wasn’t going to give her every blanket we had,” said Miller. “And then the hospital gave a few.”

This wasn’t the first time Miller heard about a cold Greyhound roughing up its passengers, he said, but he was happy to help the ill-fated bus.

“That’s what fire departments do — when people need help we do it,” he said.

But don’t ask Greyhound for a helping hand.

The bus carrier won’t be offering any refunds or compensation to the passengers, said Greyhound spokesperson Eric Wesley.

Incidents such as this one are dealt with case by case, he said, and there is no firm policy explaining which circumstances warrant compensation.

All buses are inspected before they leave and the heating system on the bus worked before it left, said Wesley.

But somehow the glitch wasn’t detected.

The National Safety Code covers the safety of large commercial vehicles from trucks to buses. The code focuses more on mechanical issues than consumer rights, said Vern Janz, director of Transport Services for the Department of Highways and Public Works.

“All we’re doing is trying to find out as much as we can from Greyhound from the last inspection report that was done,” said Janz, whose office receives around $128,000 a year from Ottawa to enforce the code.

“(The code’s) components are things such as brakes, steering, suspension, wheels, that sort of thing,” he said, “With the driver, (we deal with) their hours of service and how long they’ve been driving.”

The code requires oversight on driver-performed inspections of the vehicle, as well as biannual inspections of the vehicle.

“(The six-month tests are) done by private businesses that are qualified to do the inspections and then we see the results of those,” said Janz.

But the report is unlikely to draw any conclusions.

An inspection report is irrelevant because the bus would never have hit the road without its heating system intact, said Janz.

“Otherwise it wouldn’t have passed,” he said.

The office may not even find a report since it could have been written anywhere in Canada, said Janz.

“We’re still looking into it and we’re not exactly sure what we can do because it’s much more of a passenger comfort issue rather than a mechanical safety (issue), which is our mandate,” he said.

But in the North, no heat can be considered a safety issue.

“Now you’re speaking to something more like consumer protection,” said Janz.

And there is little to expect on that front either.

“There are absolutely no passenger rights and Transport Canada has never been very good about those sorts of things,” said Bruce Cran, president of the Canadian Consumers’ Association.

“Transport Canada provides no protection for passengers on any form of transport in regards for compensation or things like that — or for that matter, on airlines,” he said.

The European Union and some American states do have bus-passenger rights, he said.

“We’ve got nothing like that in Canada,” said Cran.

“In addition to being an issue of comfort, those temperatures could produce life-threatening and injurious conditions and people should never be subject to that type of thing,” he said.

“When I meet with Transport Minister John Baird later in the year on the problems we’ve had with airline passengers, I will bring this issue up as well,” he said.

And while the cold may not be a big concern down south, it’s a glaring safety issue for passengers who likely have no other way to travel between isolated communities along the Yukon’s long highways.

“I think they run the old clunker buses up here,” said Miller, “But maybe we’re lucky to have Greyhound. (It’s) a pretty big part of our freight system up here and (it helps people who are ) moving too.”

“But this is the last part of the country you should be (running clunkers),” he said.

Contact James Munson at