LONG ISLAND, N.Y. — Forget limousines. With plasma televisions, strobe lights, smoke machines and wraparound leather sofas, party buses are the new limousines, becoming a mainstay on the Long Island scene.
"They've been around for the last eight to 10 years, but the last four to five they've become more popular," said John Astolfi, assistant manager of Somerset Limousine in Massapequa. "They're more of a social-type atmosphere," he said, comparing them to limos. "They're bigger, and they're a lot more comfortable, plus there's more amenities."
Despite an accident Saturday night in which a 17-year-old Hampton Bays student fell out of the emergency window of a party bus, company and school officials tout their safety; the buses are subject to more stringent standards than most limousines.
All in-state for-hire buses and limousines that carry more than 14 people must be inspected and maintained every six months, said Eileen Peters, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
Companies are notified when inspections are due and inspectors eye 360 to 380 items, Peters said.
Dozens of Long Island companies provide a driver with the party buses, which can seat up to 50 people and include bathrooms and a bar. But alcohol can be brought on board only if the occupants are 21.
Teenagers rent the buses mainly for the prom, though some also rent them for Sweet 16 parties, bar mitzvahs or even just a night on the town.
Charles Kozora, superintendent of the Greenport school district, said about half its students rent limos or buses for the prom, and he's noticed more of the luxury buses in recent years.
On most party buses, the driver is supposed to act as the de facto chaperone, though some companies will provide an additional host or server for larger parties.
Limousine and bus companies that rent to teenagers say they strictly enforce a no-alcohol policy for the underage crowd.
And some take extra precautions for the prom. Metro Limousine Service in Freeport, for example, requires parents to sign a form that outlines its rules. Among them is a clause that allows the company to terminate a job if alcohol is found in the vehicle or occupants are drunk. "We have a zero-tolerance policy," said Mike Weiss, Metro's owner.
But regulating occupants' behavior when they're making stops can be difficult, acknowledged Mark Vigliante, owner of Commack-based M&V Limousines Ltd., which owns the bus involved in Saturday's accident. "We can't control what they do outside the bus," he said.