Council approves party bus crackdown, Navy Pier overhaul

SHARE Council approves party bus crackdown, Navy Pier overhaul

A crackdown on unruly passengers on party buses sought by Ald. Brendan Reilly passed the Chicago City Council on Wednesday. So did a makeover plan for Navy Pier, a major tourist destination that is in Reilly’s 42nd Ward. | Sun-Times file photo

Party bus drivers will soon be held responsible for — and forced to take “corrective action” to stop — the behavior of their rowdy and inebriated patrons.

The City Council cracked the whip on the buses Wednesday at the behest of Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and his downtown constituents fed up with what Reilly has called “rolling tinder boxes” filled with inebriated patrons dropped at the doorstep of bars and nightclubs to drink even more.

The crackdown requires those vehicles to take “corrective action” that ranges from evicting the inebriated offender to terminating the trip and returning all passengers to the “point of origin.”

During a License Committee hearing last week, Reilly described a harrowing incident over Labor Day weekend at the Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s in River North to justify holding party bus drivers, and ultimately company owners, responsible for the behavior of their customers.

“Two trolleys were side by side in the lane of traffic and the guests on each trolley were taunting each other and yelling at each other and threatening one another and ultimately, a firearm was discharged,” Reilly said.

“The police were very responsive and they managed it. But they also had to deal with 80 very drunk trolley passengers. . . . These trolleys, at a certain point, might literally turn into a rolling tinder box full of inebriated individuals who are then delivered to the doorstep of bars and nightclubs. The people are already inebriated and overserved. This becomes an issue not only for the venue’s security team but ultimately the Chicago Police Department.”

Reilly called party buses a “major drain” on already strained police resources. He noted that the crackdown was inspired by the “grave concerns” expressed by the 1st and 18th District police commanders.

“There was a total lack of accountability when it came to the driver managing his or her vehicle. A lot of shrugs and ‘Not my problem’ when confronted by officers about the condition of their guests,” Reilly said.

The ordinance approved Wednesday would prohibit charter/sightseeing passengers under the age of 21 from consuming or possessing alcohol. Passengers would also be prohibited from engaging in disorderly conduct; possessing drug paraphernalia; discharging a weapon; hurling projectiles from the vehicle; committing indecent exposure; littering; and unlawfully possessing or using marijuana.

If passengers commit any of those acts, the driver would be required to take “corrective action” defined as demanding that the passenger refrain from that behavior or leave the vehicle.

“If the recipient . . . does not comply with the demand, ‘corrective action’ means to promptly terminate the charter/sightseeing service and return any passengers to the point of origin or make a prompt report of the unlawful act(s) to the Chicago Police Department,” the ordinance states.

“No owner or driver of a charter/sightseeing vehicle shall allow any person who is visibly inebriated onto that vehicle unless the next stop is the point of origin. The driver . . . shall keep an itinerary identifying the point of origin and each stop for the current trip and shall present that itinerary to a police officer upon request.”

The ordinance would hold the owner of the sightseeing company responsible for driver violations, with notices arriving by mail.

Violators would face fines of between $250 and $500 for the first offense. A second offense brings fines of between $500 and $1,000, and each addition offense in the same calendar year draws a fine of up to $1,500.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) has raised concerns about the safety of party bus drivers forced to confront inebriated riders.

“Anything could escalate from zero to 10 by the time they call the police officers,” Scott has said.

Reilly doesn’t anticipate confrontations.

“We are certainly not encouraging trolley or bus drivers to become the police and intervene physically. The intent here is not to put any of the drivers at risk. My guess is that it will become the standard operating procedure for them to simply text or call the police department for assistance,” Reilly has said.

Also on Wednesday, the City Council approved an ambitious new chapter of the centennial makeover of Navy Pier aimed at boosting year-round attendance and remove what Reilly has called “carnival-like, 30-year-old aesthetics.”

The long-awaited makeover would bring to life the under-utilized east end of Navy Pier with an elevated walkway and reflecting pool. The so-called “lake overlook” juts out over Lake Michigan. The 12-foot-wide path includes a shallow pool that designers call a “lake mirror.”

Aldermen also signed off on a seven-story, 240-room hotel, a seasonal ice-skating rink within the footprint of the fountain and surrounding lawn, a sloped-roof welcome pavilion with 4,000 square feet of café, retail, cultural and recreation space and short-term boat docking facilities on the north side of the pier.

The hotel is expected to come first along the pier’s south dock. The rest of the improvements will depend on the generosity of private donors.

Navy Pier is already Illinois’ No. 1 tourist attraction, with 9 million annual visitors. The continued overhaul is aimed at boosting year-round attendance to 12 million over five years, assuming private funding can be found.

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