Chicago is cracking down on what one alderman outrageously referred to as "potential rolling cemeteries"—otherwise known as party buses—with a new ordinance requiring expensive security cameras and a licensed guard on trips where alcohol is involved.
The new ordinance kicked in this June and applies to vehicles that can hold 10 or more people and only provide pre-arranged transportation (called charter and sightseeing vehicles). It is city officials' latest attempt to rein in what they claim are dangerous party buses because, as stated by License Committee Chairwoman and Ward 37 Alderman Emma Mitts, "sometimes fatal violence can break out at a moment's notice thanks to the potent mix of guns and alcohol."
Most of the new rules are meant to target the bigger charter and sightseeing vehicles that can carry 15 or more passengers. For bigger buses where alcohol will be consumed on the vehicle or during trip stops, it must be outfitted with a security camera, have a licensed security guard present, all passengers must be informed of the prohibited acts, and the driver must take "affirmative steps" to ensure that no prohibited acts are taking place.
Those prohibited acts include underage drinking, disorderly conduct, possessing drug paraphernalia or drugs, unlawful possession or discharging a firearm, throwing items from the vehicle, indecent exposure, and littering.
Igor Vulicevic, owner of ChiTown LimoBus told Reason that bus shootings are isolated incidents.
"Watch the ten o'clock news. How many were killed on a daily basis in Chicago?" Vulicevic said. "I don't think that the buses are the problem."
According to Vulicevic, the ordinance is "very poorly defined," and bus companies have been fined for not having security guards or cameras on trips with fewer than 15 passengers. A press release from the mayor's office states that that these rules apply to "[b]uses that have 15 or more passengers" which makes it sound like the city is targeting large, rowdy parties. However, the ordinance is actually based on the bus carrying capacity. If there are only five people on the bus, the regulations still apply.
"Things like this are absolutely mindboggling… ," Vulicevic said. "This is just a simple example so you can see how semantics can actually cost somebody a thousand dollars."
Additionally, the city now requires all vehicles that are rated for 15 or more passengers (regardless of alcohol consumption) keep a full itinerary of the trip, and all charter and sightseeing vehicles registered by the city (even those which carry fewer than 15 passengers) must have their city vehicle number printed on the side of the bus.
Vulicevic said that it cost his business $4,000 upfront to get each bus up to code—$16,000 for his four buses. He expressed concern that increasing costs of business could actually make roadways more dangerous for consumers.
"I think it [the ordinance] will put lots of people at risk. … We provide safe and reliable transportation to the citizens and the residents of this city… ," Vulicevic said. "The rates have already gone up. We simply cannot afford paying for all of this. … So who has to pay? The consumer has to pay. And if the consumer cannot afford it then they will have to drive on their own and it will bring the risk of drinking and driving."
The mayor's office also advertised the ordinance as a way to "help police officers more easily identify unlicensed party buses so they can be stopped." Fines for noncompliance with city regulations can range from $100 to $10,000.
The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and Chicago Police conducted an investigation for illegal vehicles at the end of July and sent cease-and-desist letters to 17 companies who they claim were not following the new rules. But some of those companies say they actually are in compliance with the rules and are threatening to sue the city. Dan Cosma, owner of Cloud 9 Limo told CBS Local Chicago that his company was up to code:
"They really need to do their homework. They are saying for three days they have been investigating all those companies and they wrote I don't know how many citations. We never got a citation. We never got a ticket. We did not get notified about any of this. We know about the ordinance, we are up to date. … This is very damaging and I don't know how it can be fixed now."
Cosma added that he wanted the city to look for companies that "do, in fact, operate illegally." This is a sentiment echoed by Vulicevic, who feels that the city is penalizing legitimate businesses.
Vulicevic and other party bus businesses in Chicago are currently working with a legal team to get the ordinance better defined.
"My last intention is to bash the city and the city officials; we all have to work together," Vulicevic said.
Want to learn more? Check out this informational video from the city: