Booze Bus: Assemblyman Targets Underage Drinking on Party Buses

Categories: Law & Order
Thumbnail image for Subway party in toronto.jpg
Good luck taking a party bus to a rave...
San Francisco officials are doubting that party bus operators will self-police underage drinking on their rolling bacchanals -- which is the basis of what's called for in legislation introduced in the state assembly this month.

You know party buses -- those huge charters from which raucously drunk 22-year-olds (wink!) stumble in their heels and miniskirts into a club near you. Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) introduced AB 45 this month, which would set out some rules for the unregulated industry. Per the legislation, bus drivers must card the passengers, and make anyone under 21 sign a statement acknowledging that it's against the law to drink. If the underage partiers are found drinking, the driver must end the party and return the passengers to the place they were picked up.

San Francisco entertainment commission inspector Vajra Granelli isn't buying that party bus operators are going to bust up their own parties. "If they were self-policing, 80 percent of the of the problems we have with them wouldn't be happening."

Granelli says there are some responsible party bus companies. But he says the great majority of party buses that roll into the city come from the East Bay, where the vehicles pick up a group of twentysomething partiers, who get sauced before they even get to the club.

Hill introduced the bill after Burlingame 19-year-old Brett Studebaker crashed his car in February on Highway 101 near San Mateo after drinking for hours on a "booze cruise" bus to celebrate a friend's birthday.

Hill's spokesperson Aurelio Rojas says the law will force the party buses to comply if they want to stay licensed. "No one self-polices until the attention turns on you, and attention is turning on this industry. ... It's worked with limousines. Limousine drivers know they can't allow high schoolers in there and start drinking on prom night or they'll lose their license."

Granelli says part of the issue is party buses aren't licensed, instead fly-by-night operations where no one seems to be in charge.

"A guy goes out and puts a flier online and says party buses, and then he goes out and charters the party bus, he brings in the crowd," Graneilli says. "Often these buses aren't attached to companies, they're freelance, and we have a tough time tracking it back to who owns the friggin' bus. That's an actual issue."

Granelli says many clubs in the city won't even accept party bus crowds. First off, there's no economic benefit: The crowd doesn't buy drinks since they're already drunk, and they try to skimp on paying the cover.

They're also unruly. Granelli once responded to a scene in SOMA where two party buses had unloaded their drunken passengers, who proceeded to engage in a brawl with one other. By the time Granelli and the cops showed up, the buses had fled the scene.

Inescapably, most party bus patrons, underage or not, are driving home at the end of the night.

"You're basically loading a bunch of drunk people into their cars. You drop 'em off and they're drunk and they're going to walk right to their car. The whole concept is 'I'm on a bus, I don't have to worry about driving.' That's not really true."
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