OSWEGO, NY – At its meeting Monday night, the Common Council voted to hold a public hearing for local law No. 2 of 2012; the proposed code changes for Chapter 228, taxicabs (buses), of the code of the city of Oswego.
The public hearing will be held at 7:10 p.m. July 23 in the Council Chamber at City Hall.
Prior to the vote, during the public session, nearly a dozen people spoke out against and for the buses that transport college students to house parties, mostly in the First and Third wards on weekends when school is in session.
William “Dave” White, who ran for mayor on a quality of life platform, told the councilors, “It’s not buses.”
The buses are just transporting people to the places they want to go, he pointed out.
To solve the problem, you have to crack down on the parties where the underage drinking is taking place, he said.
“Having the buses out there can be a little annoying,” White said. “But it is extremely more annoying when the kids are walking on the street, using my front lawn as a bathroom, the language, the keying of the cars, pulling stuff out of the gardens as they’re going up the street. You have to stop the drinking.”
If it is illegal to be serving minors, why don’t they just put the cops down there and put an end to it? White asked.
Third Ward Councilor Mike Todd said he was somewhat shocked that White felt that way considering that his campaign platform was improving quality of life in the city’s neighborhoods.
“It is very important to get these drunk buses and party houses out of our neighborhoods,” said James Castiglia. “It is becoming unbearable and the city needs to address this problem now. There should be no drunk buses or party houses in any residential neighborhoods.”
If any resident transported (underage) students to a house party, they’d be arrested; so how do these drunk buses get away with it week after week? Castiglia asked.
The buses “are full of intoxicated, screaming and yelling kids at 1, 2 and 3 in the morning,” he added.
He asked the council to change the code on the drunk buses “and get them out of our neighborhood! So all of us can have our quality of life back again. You can go up and down Bridge Street all you want; just keep them out of our neighborhood.”
Phyllis DiMiero returned to Oswego to care for her elderly mother. Unfortunately, she said, the family home is located at “the notorious corner of West Eighth and Oneida.”
“I was appalled at the noise we and our neighbors are forced to put up with,” she told the council. “Last fall and this spring we have been subjected to all-night partying, swearing, fights on our lawns, littering and most of all mobs of kids in our neighborhood.”
The D-Bus has been a huge contributor of the gangs of kids arriving at all hours, she said, adding that she has witnessed the bus “dropping off drunk students numerous times a night at the home on our corner.”
“Our neighborhood is suffering; and, from August through May, our quality of life is dependant on the actions of these students,” she said.
She said she hopes the buses will be restricted to staying on the main routes and not allowed in neighborhoods.
Allen Chase, president of Chase Enterprises, Inc., owner of 342-ABUS, said he is sympathetic to the concerns of the neighbors.
“The abuse of alcohol by our young people and the effects it has had on our city is unfortunate. But it is also a side effect of being a college town,” he said. “This is not something new to Oswego.”
342-ABUS is a legitimate company based in Oswego and operates under the authority of the New York State DOT, he said. The buses go through the same rigorous inspections as all school buses; their drivers are trained, drug tested and fingerprinted, he added.
They transport more than just college kids, he noted. The buses also provide transportation for non-emergency ambulance service, transportation for things like Oswego Minor Hockey, weddings and other services, he told the councilors.
“We’re a professional transportation company. I am offended when we’re referred to as a drunk bus,” he said.
They provide public transportation to all residents equally and without prejudice, he added.
His service is popular with SUNY Oswego college students, not because they are buying them beer or encouraging them to drink. “It is merely because we are a safe, convenient and reliable transportation service,” he said. “We get them where they want to go and more importantly, we get them home safe.”
Undercover police officer have ridden the bus on several occasions and never observed any violations, he pointed out.
He noted that he doesn’t know whether it is legal for the city to restrict the buses from traveling on public streets.
If the law is approved, he said for example, it could prohibit him from taking an elderly woman home from the hospital or going into a neighborhood on a rainy night to pick up prom-goers.
Any law the city comes up with should apply to everyone equally, he said.
“It’s very easy to look for a quick fix,” he said, adding the city should enforce the existing laws to help curb the problems.
Lee Walker, the owner of the other bus company in Oswego, said it was not right to not allow someone to use public streets when everyone else does.
He told the council about one busy block for him; none of the residents there have any problems with his service, he said.
The police department also informed him there were no violations regarding his buses, he said.
He said he’d like the council to table the proposed change have everyone sit down together to work out a solution that’s fair to all.
Tim Thompson, a Third Ward resident, said he has “no problem with the notion of the bus.”
“Who is to say they haven’t saved lives?” he said referring to partiers who might drive under the influence if there were no bus service. “That’s a blessing.”
Most of the students who use the bus service are likely 19-year-olds, “and they are taking them right to the party,” he continued.
The parties “are getting way out of control,” he said. “The bottom line is now we have residents, on some weekends, live in fear. And, that’s not an understatement.”
The bus service makes it easy for the kids, many of whom are underage, to get “right to the door” of the parties, he said.
“That’s the problem. It’s a moral problem for one. It’s just not right,” he said. “We (the residents of the neighborhood) feel like we’re not in control. We are inundated with this insanity. We’re not looking to shut down the buses. All we are looking for is some middle ground.”
Tom Collette, a former cab driver also worked for a distributor (of alcoholic beverages). Neither one of those jobs involved getting kids drunk, he told the council.
All they are doing is taking a person from “A” to “B,” he said of the bus services.
Brian Savage, a longtime Oswego cab driver, said the problem is the number of buses. Each company has several vehicles to compete with each other, he noted.
“I’d say give them both two buses and let them go. I don’t feel this city is set up to have 10 buses running and passing each other, going crazy up and down side streets. There’s just too many buses. If you lower the amount of buses, I think your headache is going to go away,” he said.
“My expectation in the Third Ward is that any time the police respond to a house party, it’s mandatory that there is an arrest there,” Todd said.
“We’re not looking to put a bus service out of business,” added First Ward Councilor Fran Enwright. “What we’re looking for is some relief in the First and Third wards where this so-called service is being rendered. It is to mostly underage college kids. That’s where we have a problem with the buses.”