The party could soon be over for party buses decried as “rolling tinder boxes” filled with inebriated patrons dropped off at bars and nightclubs to drink even more.
At the behest of downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), the City Council’s License Committee on Thursday advanced a crackdown that would literally require those bus drivers to take “corrective action” that ranges from evicting the inebriated offender to terminating the trip and returning all passengers to the “point of origin.”
Prior to the final vote, Reilly described a harrowing incident that occurred 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. Police were very responsive and they managed it. But they also had to deal with 80 very drunk trolley passengers,” Reilly said.
“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 over-served. 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 a plea from police brass.
“The 18th and 1st District commanders came to me several months ago expressing grave concerns about these operations and the fact that 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.
Reilly’s ordinance 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.”
That is 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 ranging from $250 to $500 for the first offense, $500 to $1,000 for the second offense and up to $1,500 for three or more offenses within “the same calendar year.”
“It’s basic accountability. So long as drivers are policing the actions of their riders, there shouldn’t be any issues for that industry,” Reilly said.
Reilly’s colleagues generally welcomed the crackdown after experiencing similar problems with rowdy, raucous and lewd behavior on party buses roaming the streets, though not as often as occurs downtown and in River North.
License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) wanted to make the “much needed” ordinance even tougher.
“Where you have only unlawful use of marijuana, why not heroin and cocaine [and] the pills they take? Why not put that in the ordinance as well because those are things that people use on a party bus. They’re probably easier to use than marijuana,” Mitts said.
“This is an issue that could get out of hand. If we’re gonna do it, let’s do it” in a way where every possible form of abuse is included.
Reilly replied: “The reason we started with marijuana is that’s something that literally the driver could smell and detect on the bus itself.”
Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeff Levine said other controlled substances are already illegal.
“Medical marijuana use could be legal. Therefore, there could be a situation where somebody on the bus is legally able to use marijuana for medical purposes. That’s the reason for the distinction ‘unlawful use’ where the words unlawful use would not be needed with regard to other substances,” Levine said.
Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) said he’s concerned 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 said.
Reilly said he doesn’t anticipate confrontations.
“We give options here. The default position for most drivers will be to discreetly call the Police Department,” Reilly said.
“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.”