For some minors, unregulated party buses are a mobile haven for underage drinking. That could soon come to an end.
Minneapolis officials have proposed state legislation to control underage drinking and sex trafficking on party buses.
The City Attorney’s Office would like state legislators to regulate party buses, which aren’t currently defined under state law, to prohibit underage drinking and adult entertainment on trips. The measure was introduced after increased crime and sex trafficking of minors was linked to party buses.
“It’s not a perfect solution, but at least it places some obligation on the owner to have some idea about what’s going on, at the risk of not being able to continue on in business,” said Susan Segal, Minneapolis’ city attorney.
Bus operators who fail to abide by the proposed regulations, which were introduced in front of a City Council committee late last month, could face sanctions like fines, suspensions and revocation of the operator’s permits.
The Minneapolis Police Department has responded to a number of incidents — often associated with juveniles — like violence, weapons, minor consumption of alcohol and drug use related to party buses, according to a presentation given to the City Council.
“We had a spike in incidents this past summer where party buses were involved, and the city looked to address that,” said John Elder, a police department spokesman.
The city doesn’t have any regulatory authority over party buses, so there’s no way to ensure activities on the buses are legal, said Ward 8 Councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden.
Other than vehicle condition and insurance, the state doesn’t have any ability to regulate passenger behavior on the buses.
“No responsibility is placed on the owner for what goes on inside that vehicle,” Segal said.
The proposal would strengthen the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s ability to prevent adult entertainment and minor consumption aboard the buses.
A study by the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center tied party buses to underage sex-trafficked girls in Minneapolis and was listed as a cause by the city for the proposed regulations.
Lauren Martin, director of research at UROC and co-author of the study, said sex trafficking occurs on party buses because of a lack of regulations.
“In strip clubs there are lots of regulations,” she said. “But the party buses are a little more behind the scenes, so traffickers can bring additional people onto party buses without checking IDs.”
While Aleksey Silenko, owner of RentMyPartyBus, said his drivers are trained and follow strict guidelines to prevent minors from drinking on his buses, some companies knowingly allow minor consumption of alcohol during outings.
Chad Strenke, owner of Fun Run Party Buses, said he doesn’t allow underage drinking on his buses, but competitors have told him they’d go out of business if regulations aimed at thwarting alcohol consumption by minors passed.
Adam Fernandez, owner of Discount Party Bus, said his drivers aren’t trained to curb underage drinking and don’t check rider identification to verify age.
“If I don’t card you and I don’t know you’re underage, there’s no liability on me at that point — the liability’s on you,” he said.