Operations

How To Take The Trash & Trouble Out Of Your Party Buses

Jim Luff
Posted on February 15, 2018
Every party bus operator’s worst nightmare: The morning after mess. Don’t let your clients behave to extremes. (LCT photo)
Every party bus operator’s worst nightmare: The morning after mess. Don’t let your clients behave to extremes. (LCT photo)

It’s called a party-bus for a reason: People charter them to party in. The coachbuilders have built them to be mobile lounges. They have wet bars, disco lighting, dance floors, and those infamous poles. Whether you call them entertainment, stripper, exercise, or safety poles, they imply “let’s party.”

Party buses can make a lot of money and appeal to a more youthful market willing to spend. That’s why so many operators offer them. How far the party goes depends on a mixture of people, amount of alcohol, music, destinations, and the level of manners. Let’s explore these mobile cocktail lounges and the problems they create for operators, each of who must decide if the added challenges are still worth the profits.

What Is Excessive Clean Up?
Because it’s a party bus, we should expect at least some debauchery and bad behavior, right? Just as any party will need a clean-up committee at the end, we should expect some clean-up.

A former colleague of mine, Treanna Maddox, general manager of the Limousine Scene in Bakersfield, Calif., defines excessive clean-up by certain conditions explained in advance to the person signing the contract. These would include excessive spills or vomit on the carpet, any substance on interior glass, trash not put into receptacles, and any evidence of smoking whether ashes, butts, joints, or stench.

“People should treat the interior of our party buses as they would if they were a guest in someone’s home,” Maddox says. However, those are not the only factors triggering automatic clean-up charges. Maddox recalls a professional hockey team whose members chartered the bus for a raunchy scavenger hunt that included collecting under garments of men and women the players encountered during the night as well as sex toys. All of the contents collected by 24 men were left behind by the end of the night.  

Good time formula: Drinks stay upright, clothes stay on, and the trash goes into receptacles. (LCT photo)
Good time formula: Drinks stay upright, clothes stay on, and the trash goes into receptacles. (LCT photo)
Damage Collection
As with the above incident, alcohol always tends to be involved with excessive clean-ups. Two things are always certain: The chauffeur was sober and the drunk people will sober up later and argue with you about what constitutes “excessive clean-up.” Many of these cases end up in small claims courts, or even better, afternoon TV’s Judge Judy. Seriously, many cases involving limo companies end up on TV as service providers try to justify why they charged someone’s credit card or why they didn’t return their cleaning deposit. This should motivate operators to take clients through the interior of the bus and let them see its condition and the condition you expect it to be returned in.  

You must stress to the client(s) that they, as the contract signer(s), will be solely responsible for loss of contents such as glassware, damage to audio and lighting equipment, excessive spills on the carpets and floors, strewn trash, and any other rules you want to impose. Showing a visual example will go a long way toward collecting for damages when combined with aftermath photos presented in court if you should you have to fight for your money.

About Deposits
There are two ways operators can recover losses. The most popular by far, although not the best, is adding an excessive clean-up fee in your contract that allows you to charge a credit card placed on file for the specific purpose of covering damages and overtime. Remember, despite having a contract and a credit card on file, customers frequently dispute these charges. A copy of the signed contract along with some photos will usually see the merchant prevail in a chargeback. The process is a hassle for the merchant but a good credit card processor is usually able to help operators receive a favorable ruling.

The other method is to collect a cleaning deposit. Most operators fear this with good reason. The cleaning deposit on a bus should probably be $500 to $1,000. You can’t rent a houseboat without a $1,000 deposit. However, operators are afraid a client will balk at the charge and go elsewhere. The client can also haul you into court to demand their cleaning deposit back and this causes you to once again fight for your money.

Limousine company general manager Treanna Maddox makes sure “excessive clean up” is clearly defined in client contracts. (LCT photo)
Limousine company general manager Treanna Maddox makes sure “excessive clean up” is clearly defined in client contracts. (LCT photo)
About Those Clean-Up Fees

You should be aware you cannot arbitrarily place a value on a clean-up. If you end up in court, as I once did over a party-bus clean-up incident, I was asked to provide receipts from a third-party detail company I hired and I was awarded only the amount actually paid to the detailer. I was able to establish I had to pay an employee to clean up the bus before the detailer could shampoo the carpet. I was allowed his wages plus employer based costs such as taxes and worker’s comp.  Don’t be overzealous in your anger. You can only recover actual losses. The bus was out of service for a full day, but since I could not prove the bus would have been chartered during that time period, I was not allowed the amount I had charged. In other words, you cannot profit from clean-up fees.

Have Fun But Be Safe
Allowing people to party in a moving vehicle requires rules. In Chicago, for example, if alcohol is served on a bus that holds 15 or more passengers, a licensed security guard must be onboard the bus. As an alternative, many companies choose to use a host in the back who is also like a bus monitor. In the absence of either one, the chauffeur should provide a pre-ride speech explaining what type of behavior is unacceptable and the consequences of violations. That can range from dropping off disruptive passengers or terminating the ride. The chauffeur must clearly assert authority as the captain of the ship.  

Passenger Contracts
Many companies ask all passengers boarding the bus to sign a contract stating they know the rules, potential consequences of violations, and passenger responsibilities. These contracts make it easier to enlist law enforcement if you need help removing a disruptive passenger.

Nudity and Party Buses
Unfortunately, entertainment poles, alcohol, and music tend to bring out the worst in people sometimes. Many party bus passengers have decided to shed their clothing and take to dancing on the pole. This is a major safety issue. Chauffeurs must be trained to curb it immediately. The most glaring safety issue comes from a distracted chauffeur either watching the show in a mirror or on a video display in the dashboard areas.  

The second safety issue comes from other motorists who can see in the bus interior lit up at night. This could distract them and cause them to drift their vehicles into your bus or other vehicles, causing a collision. It also puts the chauffeur in a tough spot when he must stop the bus and end the show. This will no doubt upset the other passengers who may be encouraging it and become angry with the chauffeur. Passengers most commonly respond the rear compartment is their domain because they are paying for the bus, so your chauffeur should not intrude. But the chauffeur is the captain of the ship and that means the entire party vessel.

Related Topics: difficult clients, drunk passengers, limo buses, party buses, party poles, passenger safety, Safety, security, vehicle maintenance

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • Anthony

     | about 10 months ago

    The lower the hourly charge for the party bus : the more of a mess you will have to clean up

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