Children of the Corn, a Halloween event hosted by the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) on Oct. 25 at Macdonald Campus, ended with over one hundred students scrambling to find transportation home after a chartered bus company cancelled its returning rides. SSMU Vice President (VP) Internal Matthew McLaughlin received notice of the cancellation during the event and informed students that they would need to find alternative transportation back downtown.
“One of these companies, [after taking students] to Mac Campus, said students threw up, were smoking on the bus, and it was just a mess,” McLaughlin said. “That company refused to send buses back to take home students. So we had six buses that weren’t returning to Mac.”
The buses were booked by SSMU through bus.com, a service which orders buses for their clients from licensed charter bus companies. According to McLaughlin, SSMU has used bus.com for past events without any problems occurring.
“We’ve always worked with them knowing that they will find suppliers who understand [that] these are students who are going to a party,” McLaughlin said. “When we were first booking these buses, I explicitly stated that we have worked with [them] many times before and as always, we want to make sure the bus drivers are more accommodating with this type of behaviour.”
Upon learning about the bus cancellations, McLaughlin called bus.com immediately and tried to negotiate a way to secure return transportation.
“I offered to pay more or have myself and committee members clean the buses for them,” McLaughlin said. “We offered everything we could to persuade this company to come back through bus.com, but they weren’t amenable to that.
McLaughlin insisted that he exhausted all transportation options before announcing the problem to attendees. As the party’s $25 ticket included transportation, he promised a full reimbursement for students taking a taxi or Uber home. He then talked to students individually to ensure that everyone had a safe ride home.
“I made calls to a dozen other bus companies […and even] talked to the McGill administration to see if they could come up with ideas,” McLaughlin said. “I thought we [could] get the Mac shuttle to come for some emergency trips but I couldn’t reach anyone [….] I also reached out to McGill Security at [the Macdonald campus] and discussed with them various options [….] None of [which] ended up working at all.”
SSMU is still in negotiations with bus.com over prices and potential refunding. In its Terms of Service (ToS), bus.com states that it reserves the right to cancel a booking at any time. While the ToS also state that cancellations must be refunded, they points out that passengers may be refused service if they are smoking, drinking, or intoxicated.
“In general, we do refuse the right to provided services in instances where the safety of our riders and bus drivers is in jeopardy,” bus.com Chief Administrative Officer Art Elizarov wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune.
Marianne Gilbert, U3 Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, does not believe that event organizers made sufficient efforts to handle the situation.
“No one announced that the buses were cancelled, so, [shortly] before 2 a.m., my friends and I went outside and we waited for 10-15 minutes,” Gilbert wrote in a message to the Tribune. “Then, the Macdonald Campus Student’s Society (MCSS) told us to cab downtown and that we would get reimbursed.We called the taxi company but they told us that we would have to wait at least 30 minutes because everyone was ordering cabs to Mac. I was very pissed.”
79 students have applied for a reimbursement of their ride, totalling almost $10,000 payable by SSMU. However, McLaughlin does not believe that this financial loss will affect SSMU operations.
“It’s not a problem, we can carry deficits,” McLaughlin said. “It won’t impact any operations at SSMU. At the end of the year, we need to decide if we want to liquidate a small portion of the capital expenditures fund, create more revenue-generating events [or] carry the deficit over to next year.”