Party Bus Operators Divided Over Proposed Regulation of 'Booze Buses'

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Will a new bill leave businesses thrown under the bus?
The Mexican Bus says bring it on. Partybus.com says no way.

San Francisco-based party bus owners are divided over a proposed Assembly bill that transfers the responsibility for underage drinking onparty buses onto the bus drivers.

"The driver's responsibility is to get from point A to point B safely," says Will Low, manager of partybus.com. "The driver doesn't look at licenses everyday; suddenly he's liable for looking at a false ID. To shift the burden to the drivers, it's a false safety net because the driver is going to be so paranoid. And they're just drivers, what do they get paid?" 

The bill, introduced this month by San Mateo Assemblyman Jerry Hill, requires the driver to "ascertain" whether any passengers are under 21. If so, he must read them a statement noting it's against the law for them to drink, and have them sign it. If he later catches them drinking, he's got to turn the party bus around and drop everyone off.

Low says the company fully supports a bill that bans underage drinking, but thinks the burden -- and the fines for violations -- should rest on the person that contracts the bus. Then, that person is "thinking if my ass gets busted, I'm out $5,000. Then he's going to be a little more cautious, isn't he?"

Meanwhile, Mexican bus manager Richard Talavera says he'd have no problem with his drivers being required to card the party goers. The proposed bill actually mirrors the company's current policy: that if anyone underage is found to be drinking, they'll cut the party short.

Talavera says he's often able to catch the clients who are planning on have young'uns on board, because they won't want to stop at any clubs -- where they inevitably will be carded.   
"It's a big red flag, and then I'll start asking about IDs. Half the time that results in people saying no, or not getting back to me."

"I'm always prepared to just call the night off because it's not worth it. It's never worth it. We always back up the driver. The drivers don't have to take any abuse."

Low says any bill may try to minimize underage drinking, but it will never stop it. "They sneak alcohol in." He says the company had a party bus for a prom recently at the Tiburon Yacht Club.

 "As the driver cleaned up afterwards, he found a couple bottles. It was a great group, the parents seemed very responsible, a good school. Yet this occurs. Who's responsible? The driver?"

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