Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has today launched a public consultation seeking views on how bus operators should be penalised for allowing alcohol consumption on buses.
Drinking alcohol on a bus is against the law and passengers can be fined up to £1,000 on conviction. The Minister now wants to go after bus operators who encourage and facilitate drunkenness on buses.
The sanctions being proposed are for operators to face restrictions on their licenses or ultimately lose it if merited. The proposed sanctions also include imposing a traffic offence against operators.
In March 2012, former Minister Alex Attwood met with a number of bus operators to stress that illegal drinking of alcohol on buses must be stopped. The DOE also commissioned research to better understand the extent of the issue.
Mark H Durkan said: “I have absolutely no problem with people enjoying themselves. ‘Booze buses’ though can be dangerous on our roads. This consultation demonstrates my commitment to penalise those who encourage and facilitate drunkenness on buses.
“Unfortunately the practice of drinking on board buses is still common place in Northern Ireland and problems have been further escalated in recent years due to the increased popularity of ‘party’ vehicles or ‘booze buses’ for social use. This activity is illegal and unsafe and action must be taken to address it.
“I am though very concerned that there is little or no knowledge among the general public of the law prohibiting alcohol consumption on a bus. I am issuing this consultation exercise to highlight that. And the public are with us on this. In recent research commissioned by my Department, the large majority of those surveyed were not aware of the offence at all.
"Sixty-one per cent of people interviewed felt it was very or quite likely that passengers would be killed or seriously injured as a result of a road collision caused by people drinking on a bus. A mystery shop carried out on behalf of my Department on a sample of bus operators showed that many in the bus industry continue to facilitate this irresponsible behaviour on a weekly basis. This information clearly demonstrates the need to address this problem before it is too late.
“It is my duty, as Environment Minister, to attempt to regulate this activity so that responsible operators can continue to make a living whilst those who are facilitating this behaviour are penalised accordingly. Today’s consultation reflects these intentions and I would like to urge everyone to consider the options carefully and give the Department their reasoned view on the way forward.”
The consultation will run from 24 July 2013 to 30 September 2013 and can be viewed on the Consultation section of the DoE website.