OSWEGO, NY – After more than an hour and 20 minutes of a pointed public hearing and another 13 minutes of discussion between the councilors themselves – the “drunk bus” issue was parked on the table for the time being.
More than a dozen members of the public, including two former councilors and the owners of the city’s two bus companies, voiced their opinions on Proposed Local Law No. 2 of the Year 2012 – A Local Law Amending Chapter 228, Taxicabs, of the Code of the City of Oswego, New York.
Opponents say the law would cripple the bus companies’ ability to do business.
Proponents say the law will help improve the quality of life in neighborhoods over-run by college students frequenting “loud and illegal house parties.”
A lawyer, representing one of the bus companies called the proposed law “illegal” and “ill-advised.”
His clients are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the NYS DOT commissioner, he pointed out, adding that what the city is trying to do is discriminatory.
By providing a safe means of transportation, his clients are reducing potential problems, he told the council.
James Castiglia said he lives on what residents have nicknamed Drunk Bus Alley.
“We’re not trying to shut them down,” he said. “Just leave the buses out of our neighborhood. The greed in this city to get the college students’ money is out of control at the expense of our quality of life and something needs to be done.”
A resident who recently purchased an historic home on the west side discovered that “the quite neighborhood we had first observed during that summer day was totally transformed once the college students came back.”
The family was awakened at all hours of the night by yelling, screaming and fighting, he added.
The house parties are the problem, Sue Matthews pointed out.
“I don’t just understand how we dragged bus companies into this,” she said.
However, a West Oneida Street resident said he didn’t feel the bus service was making things better, It was making things worse, he said.
“Instead of the kids walking and being charged with public intoxication, they are going from one party to another to another. The quality of life since I’ve lived here in six years has definitely gone downhill.”
“(The proposed law) doesn’t solve the problem,” according to Betty Gray, coordinator of the Oswego Community Neighborhood Watch.
If the city forces the buses to different routes, it will only push the problem into other wards, she said.
She urged the residents to keep calling the police.
“The only time I have a problem with the buses is when they are dropping off or picking up in front of my house,” said former Third Ward councilor Ed Harrington.
It is a problem most nights of the week with “drunks terrorizing our neighborhoods,” he said. “And, no one is doing anything about it.
City officials have got to start cracking down on this sort of behavior and enforcing the laws currently on the books, he said, adding the new law would only shift the drunks from the buses to multiple taxis.
Lee Walker, owner of one of the bus companies, said he checked with several residents who told him their councilor never asked for their input on the situation.
Tom Collette pointed out the buses are providing a service; they are not providing the drinks.
“The parties are not caused by the buses,” he said. If the law is passed, he said, there would be five taxis transporting the students instead of just one bus.
However, another west side resident called the bus companies “enablers” and claimed the students who use the bus service are “19 years old, maybe 20.”
“They are enabling underage drinking. It’s a moral issue. They know it’s wrong,” he told the council. “We have to cut off the supply (to the parties). The buses are the supply lines.”
If the law is enacted, it will be challenged, Al Chase, one of the bus company owners, informed the council.
“This law won’t stop parties. You’re going after the wrong thing,” he said.
Faced with the possibility of a legal challenge, two councilors moved to table the resolution so the city could be sure to dot its I’s and cross its T’s regarding the proposed amendment to the city charter.