Party bus crackdown advances but more must be done, alderman says

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Chicago Police investigate an incident in September 2016 during which gunfire erupted on a party bus in the 500 block of West Irving Park Road. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Party buses condemned as “rolling bars” would be required to install security cameras, hire more security personnel or cut trips short and eject rowdy passengers, under a mayoral crackdown advanced Thursday.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) joined forces with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the new rules, which were introduced in response to an incident in March on a party bus in which a 28-year-old Edgewater man was shot and killed. Two others also were wounded in the exchange of gunfire that started with an argument on the bus.

Still, Reilly openly acknowledged that more needs to be done; the Illinois General Assembly, he said, should amend the state’s concealed-carry law to ban firearms on party buses, just as they are banned in bars.

“Sportsmen, people who are proud owners of firearms will be the first to tell you: alcohol and guns are a bad mix,” Reilly said. “These party buses are essentially bars on four wheels. We should apply the same standard to the party bus in the interest of public safety.”

In the meantime, Reilly said he hopes the new crackdown approved by the City Council’s License Committee will rein in rowdyism and violence in a way previous crackdowns have not.

Party buses that carry at least 15 people drinking on board, or that make multiple bar stops, would be required to install security cameras or hire more security personnel.

Operators would also be given 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; the penalty for a first offense would rise from $100 to $1,000, while the maximum fine would be $10,000. The minimum fine for operating an unlicensed party bus on Chicago streets would rise to $5,000.

And “clearly identifiable” signs would be required on licensed “large charter/sightseeing” vehicles to make it easier for Chicago Police to identify and shut down party buses operating without licenses.

Emanuel has also promised 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.

“That bus driver is not having to go it alone. The purpose … is to take a bit of the burden off and provide them with an additional layer of security — either a video camera or a paid security officer on that bus,” Reilly said.

“The camera makes good sense because it’ll help preserve evidence if there is an incident on the bus. … the hope is with a camera there, folks will be a little less inclined to act out and commit acts of violence and do all the stupid things they do on these party buses.”

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.”

The new version authorizes drivers to eject rowdy passengers without going back to where the trip started.

“If one of their trips is going poorly, terminate the trip immediately. Don’t keep going and then, throw your hands up in the air [and say], ‘Oh gosh. What am I gonna do about it?'” Reilly said.

“You have violated your contract. If they need to stop that bus mid-route and end the trip, that’s it. That’s the way it should work.”

Party bus operators did not testify at Thursday’s License Committee hearings.

Chris Vecchio, owner of Chi-Town Party Bus, told the Chicago Sun-Times last month that he has already installed front and back cameras that monitor the behavior of party bus patrons.

But Vecchio argued then that it was 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 then.

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