B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone has ordered an investigation into Greyhound Lines after a bus driver abandoned two girls at a small community gas station in the middle of the night.
"No reasonable individual would leave two children in a potentially unsafe location on the side of the road," Mr. Stone told reporters Thursday.
Chelsea Kazakoff, 12, and Jessie Kazakoff, 16, were visiting their mother in Prince George over spring break and they boarded a bus on Sunday, April 3, to return to their father's home in Red Deer, Alta. They expected to be back in their classrooms by Monday.
The sisters had to change buses in the B.C. village of Valemount, where the Greyhound ticket booth is located inside a gas station.
It was 3:45 a.m. when their second bus arrived. The driver determined that the girls' tickets had expired and, according to a statement from Greyhound, the bus was full, anyway. The driver left the two minors at the station to wait for another bus that was scheduled to arrive at 6:30 a.m. That route would mean additional time and more bus changes, going through Kamloops and then Calgary before a bus would get them to their Red Deer destination at 2:45 a.m. on Monday.
"They were really freaked out and scared," family friend Maeve Hanna said. "That location is isolated and dangerous, infamous for young women going missing. It's ludicrous they were left there."
The village is close to Highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears, stretching 800 kilometres between Prince Rupert to Prince George. Since the 1970s, at least 18 women and girls have been murdered or have disappeared along Highway 16 and adjacent routes.
The girls telephoned their mother, Vanessa Aubichon, at work and she found a friend willing to drive three hours from Prince George to Valemount to pick them up, and then bring her daughters to Red Deer in time for school. Ms. Hanna said Ms. Aubichon did not want to comment further, although the mother told her story earlier to the CBC.
Mr. Stone said the Passenger Transportation Branch is looking into Ms. Aubichon's complaint about the incident.
"If the facts are as they have been presented, it is completely and totally unacceptable. It cannot be allowed to happen on any stretch of highway," he said.
He said that as a father, he found the details disturbing. "I have got to tell you, as someone with three young daughters of my own, I just cannot imagine finding out that my children were left on the side of the road in the middle of the night because of an invalid ticket. We're going to get to the bottom of this."
Lanesha Gipson, a spokesperson for Greyhound Lines, said the bus line has staff at the station around the clock and the girls were monitored while they waited to ensure their safety.
"Upon our investigation, we determined that the customers' tickets had expired two days prior to the date they travelled. Although they were allowed to travel from Prince George to Valemount, the bus that arrived in Valemount was at capacity and had no empty seats for the customers to travel," she said in a written statement. She added that the driver made sure the sisters would get seats on the next bus before leaving them behind.
Mr. Stone said investigators will determine if the company violated provincial regulations that prohibit bus and taxi drivers from refusing service to vulnerable passengers.
"There are very specific provisions in the Passenger Transportation Act that say clearly a carrier cannot leave individuals, particularly children, in unsafe locations," he said. Violations of the act can result in fines or the suspension of the carrier's licence.