Official admits to treating company involved in fatal Oct. 6 crash with "kid gloves."
When party buses entered the ground transportation market in the early 90s, they delivered a new stream of revenue as an exciting new service that was basically a nightclub on wheels. They quickly gained popularity for bachelor parties, weddings, quinceaneras, and out of town concerts. They commanded hefty hourly rates and the return on investment was huge.
Today, they have become the black eye of the industry with reports of drunk passengers falling out of emergency exists, a decapitated teen who stuck his head out of a sky-door, drunk passengers being struck by cars while exiting, and several shootings.
The fallout from of all of this bad publicity has become a nightmare for operators who have seen huge spikes in insurance premiums while many carriers have simply refuse to insure them at all. Some operators can’t find the necessary insurance.
The City of Chicago has implemented some of the strictest regulations in the industry that by all accounts was completely misguided despite repeated input from and meetings with members of the Illinois Limousine Association (ILA). Las Vegas is reported to be considering additional regulations that would closely mirror those in Chicago.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board requires all individuals who promote nightlife venues in a casino to undergo background checks for licensing for quality control purposes. It has extended those regulations to include transportation companies — and party buses in particular — to also possess a license from the Gaming Control Board because they are dropping off patrons at casinos to consume alcohol and enter nightlife venues.
Chicago has basically told operators if a bus starts, ends, or stops at any establishment holding a liquor license, the bus must have a licensed security guard onboard, says Antoinette Gonzales (aka The Mini-Bus Lady) from Aries Charter in Chicago. To comply with the regulations costs a lot of money.
The additional costs to operate a party bus include increased insurance premiums, the cost of licensed guards, camera systems, operating permits, and background checks. Lou Castro, owner of Earth Limousines and president of the Nevada Bus and Limousine Association, says, “We already are having to deal with Uber and Lyft, and now they are squeezing even more out of our transportation small businesses. Las Vegas is a big city, but everyone has to remember it is made up of many small businesses.” The licensing alone in Vegas can range from $250 to $2,500.
“For small businesses in the transportation industry, our whole selling point is we are good people with a good price and good customer service,” Castro says. “That continues to be harder to provide with all the cost increases being thrown at us”. Las Vegas has a 3% rideshare tax in addition to the standard taxes and annual business licensing fees passed on to the consumer.
In Chicago, DMC companies are complaining to the ILA that they are averaging additional costs of $500 per job. Under the law, a bus picking up at a hotel and heading to the airport must have a guard since hotels have liquor licenses. Although the duration of the trip might be less than half an hour, the consumer will have to pay for four hours of guard service.
As mentioned, Chicago has implemented regulations requiring a licensed security guard to be on any bus where alcohol might become a factor. Paula Di Biasi, executive director of ILA says, “Doing simple math, depending on the event, can add $200 and up to the price paid by the client.” Both DiBiasi and Gonzales shared sentiments of security companies gouging operators because they know they can. This includes imposing four-hour minimums. DiBiasi says security companies came out of the woodwork trying to get an invite to speak at an ILA meeting and cash in.
The guards themselves pose a new problem. Gonzales cites the logistics of getting the guard onboard for the run and getting the group to give up a seat for a complete stranger to ride with the group. DiBiasi says guards show up armed when they are not supposed to have weapons on the bus. “They don’t dress right, they ask for bikes to be carried along. They are not professional, and yet they need them to be in the vehicle but they don’t fit in based on their attire.”
DiBiasi wonders how effective they are since they are not allowed to carry weapons but yet one reason for having them is because of passengers becoming involved in shootings. In an oddity, the security guard’s main function is to have a phone and be able to call for police help. It seems logical the chauffeur could do the same thing or essentially anyone with a cell phone. Gonzales says, “Having a guard on the bus is extremely impractical,” and cited the customer relationship problems it creates when passengers are told they have to pay an additional fee for a guard. It should be noted buses entering Chicago that hold Federal DOT Authority are exempt from the law because local law does not supersede a vehicle operating under federal law.
Gary Smith, owner of Limousine Scene in Bakersfield, Calif., learned insurance companies troll the websites of their insured operators specifically looking for party bus offerings. If they find you offer a party bus, they may not renew you as was the case for Smith. Smith’s longtime insurance agent, Carol Bean, searched for a carrier but was unable to find anyone willing to accept a party bus despite a clean record.
Mark Freeark, an agent with the popular industry vendor Transportation Insurance Brokers, says underwriters have seen enough claims from people who have fallen down while dancing in party buses, other injuries, and even deaths, that they want to minimize any further payouts. Insurance companies don’t like the term party bus. Gonzales says Aries Charter has always referred to them as limo buses instead of a party bus.
Perhaps having a guard on the bus will minimize some risk by maintaining orderly control. Gonzales says it may be the trend of the future. Installing camera systems might be a deterrent to bad behavior or perhaps provide needed defense documentation for a lawsuit. Cameras are required by the Chicago ordinance and have very specific requirements for the type, angles, and storage of recorded footage. “Training is the key to minimizing the risk,” Gonzales says.
A number of meetings were held beginning in September 2016 with input solicited from ILA members. The original ordinance was aimed specifically at “party buses” but the language was changed to say “charter buses.”
The ILA specifically asked if they could hire their own employees who either had a guard card license or employees would be trained and licensed. That was disallowed and third party security companies must be used. Changing the wording of the ordinance from party bus to charter bus became an umbrella for enforcing the law on everything from a 15-passenger shuttle bus to a 57-passenger coach, DiBiasi says. Gonzales adds, “This ordinance now includes tourism, high school kids, and little old ladies where having a guard on the bus is not appropriate or necessary.”
They say it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch, and most party bus operators who have been cited or involved in shootings and other problems are running illegally without a license. “They don’t have the knowledge or manpower to train chauffeurs to deal with passenger issues,” Gonzales says.
“It’s not a horrible idea (the ordinance) but it was implemented poorly.” The ILA continues to lead its campaign to modify the laws.
Official admits to treating company involved in fatal Oct. 6 crash with "kid gloves."
10/23 update: As the public awaits a preliminary report on an accident cause, two recommendations after a 2015 crash would have affected the recent one.
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