Québec City, Québec — A dispute between Québec’s Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) and its roadside inspectors could result in nearly 800 school buses pulled off roads in the province for having green bumpers.
SAAQ regulations require school buses to be fitted with either black or grey bumpers–aside from electric ones, which are required to use blue bumpers.
The colours allow first responders to quickly identify what type of vehicle they are dealing with in the event of a collision.
Despite the green not being authorized, manufacturers in Québec have been fitting green bumpers on propane-powered buses for years.
Québec’s school bus federation says it’s been flooded with calls from operators of propane-powered buses who have been stopped by traffic inspectors ever since they began targeting green bumpers on April 20.
The union representing SAAQ roadside inspectors acknowledged the checks are a pressure tactic.
“The school buses are being targetted for mechanical checks,” Nathalie Rainville, a negotiator with the Fraternité des constables du contrôle routier du Québec, told Radio-Canada. “All the buses are checked periodically to ensure emergency exits are compliant, to ensure there are enough seats. We are also checking the colour of the bumpers.”
Luc Lafrance, president of the federation of school bus operators said his members have received notices of non-compliance for the colour of their bumpers in the past, but he has never seen buses pulled off the roads.
As of April 20, about a dozen propane-powered school buses had been impounded by roadside inspectors.
Félix Guévin, the president of Groupe Guévin, a school bus operator southeast of Trois-Rivères, said he understands pulling vehicles off the road for safety concerns, but not for the colours of their bumpers.
“I understand the SAAQ’s regulations as far as safety is concerned,” he said. “If a wheel doesn’t meet the regulations or if there are poorly-made welds…I can understand that. But this is just the colour of the bumper: it doesn’t change the safety of the vehicle in any way.”
Guévin told CBC that an inspector escorted one of his drivers to a garage after she was stopped so that the bumpers could be painted quickly with a can of black spray paint before it was allowed to return to the road.
He said he’s been rushing to paint the remainder of the bumpers on his propane-powered bus fleet, although admitted it’s a temporary fix as the paint wears off quickly.
“There are immense risks. But if our vehicles are stopped like this every day we won’t have enough buses in our supply.”
Michel Labrie, the sales director with Drummondville-based school bus manufacturer Autobus Girardin says players in the industry have been urging the province to allow green bumpers on propane-powered buses for several years now.
Blue bumpers were authorized for use on electric school buses in the summer of 2021, though the Transports Ministry has not followed up on requests to allow green bumpers on the propane-powered buses.
“We firmly believe that green bumpers are a very important safety item, as much as the blue bumpers on electric vehicles are,” said Labrie.
The province tow-truck association the Association Professionnels du Dépannage du Québec also believes green bumpers indicating a school bus is powered by propane is an important safety feature. The association pushed for the use of the colour in communications with the SAAQ and the Ministry of Transport, to no result.