Editorial: Revelers beware — dangerous party buses deserve more scrutiny

Passengers boarded a Party One Way party bus recently at the QuikTrip, 31st Street and Southwest Boulevard.
Passengers boarded a Party One Way party bus recently at the QuikTrip, 31st Street and Southwest Boulevard. dmcguire@kcstar.com

Party buses cater to customers who put their money down believing they are playing it safe.

It’s a party on wheels. Revelers can bring liquor on board, and a driver hauls everyone around for a fun evening, allowing passengers to avoid the dangers of mixing alcohol and driving.

But a lack of federal and state oversight has allowed these popular services to proliferate with few protections in place for customers. Many party buses are anything but safe for passengers.

People have died, including a 26-year-old Kansas City, Kan., woman who tumbled out the doors of a bus. Jamie Frecks was run over by other cars on the highway. Her death should have launched a thorough inquiry by officials tasked with overseeing the industry. It did not.

Now, a Kansas City Star investigation has found that more than half of the party buses in the metropolitan area fail to comply with many of the most basic requirements: holding adequate insurance, completing safety inspections and ensuring that drivers are properly licensed.

This is not a problem that’s limited to the Kansas City area. The Star found similar abuses nationwide.

Unscrupulous firms know where they can thrive.

The industry needs to be reined in before companies that blatantly flout existing laws cause another accident or endanger another life.

Lawmakers must act. They can look to the state of Washington as a guide. That state commissioned a study of the industry. Then it changed crucial laws and made it easier to hold firms accountable.

Changes will be necessary to ensure that inspectors who oversee regulation of the buses in our region begin monitoring them more closely.

An attitude shift would help, too. The Star found that even when abuses are flagged, many inspectors do little more than issue warnings. Authorities need to impose stiffer penalties, or even criminal charges, against repeat offenders who continue to defy the rules.

Clearly, that hasn’t happened. Firm consequences are needed.

The general public also needs to be aware of the dangers and become more proactive in choosing a company to hire. Ask to see inspection records, drivers’ credentials and proof of the firm’s insurance.

Often, shady companies rely on low prices to court clients. They are boosting their profits, content that a customer’s limited funds or desire for a bargain will mean fewer questions asked.

Missouri needs to make records of previous fines for passenger carrier services open and accessible. Kansas already posts such fines online.

Grisly accidents should not be the only impetus for imposing basic standards on rogue companies. And a lawsuit shouldn’t be passengers’ only option for holding companies accountable.

Sadly, it’s often young people seeking a safe way to celebrate a landmark life event who hire party buses. They drive teenagers to prom, college students to sporting events and wedding parties as couples celebrate their big day.

Buyers should beware. But both Kansas and Missouri should step up efforts to punish bad actors and pre-empt more preventable tragedies.