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As holiday party season kicks into gear, city tightens noose against party buses

A party bus parked on North Orleans Street.

A party bus parked on North Orleans Street. | Sun-Times file photo

As holiday party season kicks into full gear, Chicago is continuing to tighten the regulatory noose against party bus operators accused of violating rules aimed at reining in rowdyism and violence.

Since Jan. 1, 385 citations and 22 “cease and desist” orders have been issued against party bus operators. The crackdown has triggered $300,070 in penalties against operators accused of violating the city’s rigid rules.

A so-called “nights and weekends” team created by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection has now completed training and started permanent shifts.

That “new and targeted enforcement” –– at a time when party bus companies are most active and most complaints are made –– has resulted in 510 tickets and 50 “cease and desist” orders since the team got rolling in 2017.

Party bus companies targeted by the city’s crackdown include:

• Pink Transportation LLC after police got a tip and found guns, drugs and parole violations.

• Millennium Chicago Limousine after the driver of a charter bus reported being shot after a passenger attempted to rob him.

• A company doing business as Integrity Chauffeurs after reports that several guns were found on a party bus transporting mourners to a gang-related funeral.

• Chicago Transport and Limo, Inc., after a joint investigation with Chicago police found an intoxicated driver and arrested him for driving under the influence.

The party isn’t exactly over for party buses once condemned by aldermen as “rolling cemeteries.” But the multi-pronged crackdown seems to be working.

There were six party bus shootings in 2016. This year, there have been three. The number of illegal weapons recovered and associated with party buses has dropped from six last year to two this year.

“The ordinance we passed last year is yielding the results we hoped for: a safer Chicago for residents and visitors…Parties are safer for people using licensed operators,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel was quoted as saying in a press release.

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno added, “We are sending a message: If you do business in Chicago, you had better be serious about ensuring the safety of our communities and the safety of patrons.”

Last year, the City Council moved to require party buses that carry at least 15 people drinking on board or making multiple bar stops to install security cameras or hire more security personnel.

Emanuel’s ordinance also gave 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. Problem buses were also hit with a 10-fold increase in fines.

Operators were further required to install “clearly identifiable signage” on licensed “large charter/sightseeing” vehicles to make it easier for Chicago Police officers to identify and shut down party buses operating without licenses.

Earlier this year, the city cracked the whip even more.

The Emanuel administration hammered out an intergovernmental agreement with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office aimed at bolstering the city’s capacity to crack the whip against illegal and irresponsible party bus operators.

The agreement empowered 10 city investigators instead of the current five to look up vehicle licenses plates, vehicle identification numbers and drivers license numbers maintained by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White in “real time.”

Enforcement was further enhanced by giving those 10 designated city investigators expanded access to so-called “driver abstracts.”

Abstracts are a three-year record of all moving violation convictions, accident involvement reports and other actions that trigger drivers license “suspensions, revocations or other disqualifications.”

That allows city investigators to determine whether party bus operators have a valid commercial drivers license passenger endorsement, which is required to operate a party bus.

The intergovernmental agreement also created a Party Bus Safety Task Force with representatives from the Chicago Police Department, the Secretary of State’s Office, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois State Police.

In spite of all of those steps, City Hall isn’t done getting tough.

The Emanuel administration wants the Illinois General Assembly to require and create an online state registry to help identify party buses that are either improperly licensed or have not passed safety tests.

The bill would also require an improved state vehicle identification that city investigators could use.