Following a gun-related incident on New Year’s Eve, police and city officials are again considering regulating the party buses that transport hordes of people to nighttime entertainment throughout The City.
Last year, Assemblyman Jerry Hill introduced legislation that would address underage drinking on such vehicles after a Burlingame teen died when he crashed his car into a barrier hours after drinking on such a bus.
Assembly Bill 45, which is still being discussed with party bus operators, is aimed at holding companies responsible for alcohol consumption on buses. The bill has yet to be discussed by a legislative committee.
Meanwhile, San Francisco police Officer Steven Matthias recently told the San Francisco Entertainment Commission that his department is looking into party buses.
“There is a no-stopping zone on Broadway, but occasionally buses do stop,” he said. “It’s something we’re dealing with, and party buses in general.”
Noise and intoxication are some of the major concerns associated with the buses — especially patrons’ level of inebriation when they are dropped off.
“It’s not a door-to-door service,” said Vajra Grenalli, an inspector for the Entertainment Commission. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, these buses are not from San Francisco. So by the time they get here, [passengers are] all pretty lit.”
In recent years, the number of buses dropping off patrons at bars and clubs in North Beach and along Polk Street has increased.
On New Year’s Eve, as people exited a bus outside a North Beach club, one patron grabbed a bag and the driver noticed a gun inside, Grenalli said. The passenger left the bag and went to a club; that’s when the driver called police.
When the patrons returned to find one was being arrested on a weapons charge, many others became irate.
The absence of state regulations is one hurdle for agencies looking to crack down on the industry. Grenalli said the legality of municipal regulation is unclear.
“There’s not much out there right now, even at the state level,” he said. “We’re really trying to look at how we can regulate them.”
Bus operator Goldie Bhullar, the owner of Angel Limousine Service in Castro Valley, said officials should find a way to address the bad apples without penalizing responsible companies.
“If they regulate, there’s going to be a loss of revenue in San Francisco because people will start going to San Jose and other areas like that,” Bhullar said. “They have to find the buses that are illegally operating. I think you will get 30 to 40 percent less party buses if they check whether they have proper licenses to operate.”
Some clubs do not allow party buses to drop off patrons, saying they are a liability because many passengers are already intoxicated. But others do let passengers to enter.
“We can tell venues to not take them,” Grenalli said. “But that won’t happen. They’re spending money, and as a city we like that.”