Party buses that carry at least 15 people drinking on board or making multiple bar stops would be required to install security cameras or hire more security personnel under a mayoral crackdown proposed Monday to stop the violence.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s get-tough plan comes two weeks after an argument aboard a party bus turned into an exchange of gunfire that killed a 28-year-old man in Edgewater and injured two others.
The new rules are the latest in a series of crackdowns that have so far failed to stop the violence.
In addition to the camera and security personnel requirements, the mayor’s ordinance would give operators the option of ending a trip at a destination, instead of returning to the point of origin, when an unruly passenger refuses to get off the bus.
There would also be a ten-fold increase in fines, from $100 to $1,000 for the first offense and a maximum fine of $10,000. The minimum fine for operating an unlicensed party bus on Chicago streets would rise to $5,000.
And “clearly identifiable signage” would be required on licensed “large charter/sightseeing” vehicles to make it easier for Chicago Police officers to identify and shut down party buses operating without licenses.
Emanuel is also promising to create a “multi-agency force” to conduct “compliance sweeps” that target illegal operators, demand supporting documents in the field and, if necessary, impound illegal vehicles before slapping operators with hefty fines.
“The party is over for bus operators who don’t play by the rules in the city of Chicago,” the mayor said in a press release. “This is a smart approach to hold problem operators accountable and boost safety on the many reputable buses throughout the city.”
Chris Vecchio, owner of Chi-Town Party Bus, said he has already installed front and back cameras that monitor the behavior of party bus patrons.
But Vecchio said it’s not fair to require party bus companies that play by the rules to hire more security personnel when the problems are being caused by illegal operators.
“To do everything right costs money. That means I have to spend another $100 per trip to have another person on that bus when the illegal party bus companies don’t do it,” Vecchio said Monday.
Vecchio noted that he charges $600 to rent a 22-passenger bus for four hours. On Craig’s list, operators he claimed are “illegal” charge $425 for buses without safety exam stickers or proper license plates.
“Anybody can go on eBay and buy a bus for $4,000, spray-paint ‘party bus’ on it and throw up some disco lights,” Vecchio said. “We have to have special license plates and liability insurance. Every six months, we have to get safety inspections done by the state and carry a sticker that verifies that.”
Vecchio said he has “reached out to aldermen” to discuss the problem and provide a list of illegal operators. But, he said, “Nobody will talk to me.”
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson called the mayor’s ordinance an “effective tool to reduce violence” aboard party buses roaming Chicago streets.
Johnson said the Police Department would work hand-in-glove with the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to hold accountable those who “put people at risk and contribute to the criminal incidents that results from their unlawful operations.”
Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Samantha Fields said the ordinance would pave the way for the city to “penalize the bad actors” while allowing those who play by the rules to “thrive and operate in a safe environment.”
The mayor’s ordinance will be co-sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and by downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).
Six months ago, Reilly thought he had remedied the problem. He persuaded the City Council to approve a crackdown that required party 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.”
On Monday, Reilly said the new ordinance “simply strengthens” the previous version by enhancing penalties and fines.