‘Drunk Bus’ Debate Rolls On In Oswego Council Chamber

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.”


  1. For those who need help to work things out:

    College housing in residential areas is illegal.
    Selling alcohol in these houses is illegal.
    Minors consuming alcohol is illegal.
    Parking on the sidewalk is illegal.
    Excess noise is illegal.

    Apparently the only legitimate operation in this thing is the bus.

    The responsibility for enforcing these laws rests with the city engineer and the police.

    It’s certainly obvious. The problem in college housing will in no way be solved by pointing the finger at a legitimate business taking advantage of the city’s inadequacies, no matter which side of the aisle the entrepreneur comes from. The proposed action would no doubt result in another ex post facto regulation and the payout from another lost lawsuit hiding in the shadows.

    Our councillors, past and present, want us to believe again that the law just needs another little adjusting to get it closer to something our officials might enforce. So it was and is with noise, sidewalks, parking, rental permits and water to say nothing of ambulances, harborfests and spot zoning.

    In all honesty, I can think of no legislation in the recent past that has made the life of our average citizen any easier. (Just the notion that the people I have watched doing the tweaking might be brighter than the guy who wrote it in the first place is mindboggling.)

    But there certainly has been much effort to sustain the country club atmosphere enjoyed by our civil servants, who have neither lost benefits nor increased effort in this time of raised taxes and economic strife. The laxity of our officials that has fueled the issue of college housing and other problems in our neighborhoods is obvious. An astute observer might also note that the hire the retired policy insures that laxity. Need I mention, too, the ex mayor’s salary and hospital plan, fireman staff requirements or overtime plow drivers grinding an inch of snow?

    And through all this, in almost two decades, not one councilor has stood and demanded repairs be made to our failed system, nor crowded every resolution with a long discussion on the lack of pertinent code enforcement until someone in the chain of command was forced to act.

    And from the new guy at the top, who must know better by now, we, who should be served, are asked to serve, with due diligence, while our leaders, with a little help from their friends, study Pie in the Sky and look for new grant money to mismanage.

  2. In response to the comment above, how is college housing illegal? It is illegal for a legal adult citizen to rent property from a legal landlord in the City of Oswego? Because I have an extremely hard time believing that every single resident of the City of Oswego owns their own home. The State University of New York at Oswego is not providing housing for students other then the dorms located on the college campus. If a student wishes to move off-campus, they are no longer living in college housing. When a group of students decides to rent a house/apartment, it is no longer college housing. So you’re trying to say that just because we are students, it should be illegal for us to live where we choose, regardless of our age? That makes total sense, really.

    I am a recent graduate and during my time at Oswego, I rented a house off-campus. I lived their year-round, I had a job, I paid my bills, my address on my license was changed to Oswego, and I was even registered to vote there. I was a resident of the City, and a college student; and I never had any legal troubles.

  3. These people are all complaining about the common results of living in a college town. I really doubt there’s any way Oswego could possibly tone down it’s obnoxious party scene, considering it’s one of the top 10 party schools in the country. It’s cute they all think they can stop the partying and turn SUNY Oswego into a calm, respectable-like institution, but that’s a pretty big far-shot.

    Maybe they should acknowledge they live in a college town famous across the country for it’s bars and parties, and move out of the city. I know I wouldn’t even consider owning a house on Bridge Street or anywhere near it.

    And to the Oswego citizens complaining about “their community” being ruined, let’s step back for a minute and acknowledge their role in the community. Since they live on or just off Bridge street, we can assume they don’t make much money, and probably don’t have a very important job. So if the person trying to preserve “their” community were to move out of the community, I’m pretty sure the town and the college would survive and strive as if nothing happened. But what if the college had to leave the town of Oswego? The town itself would die out, and that same person would eventually most likely lose their job. Whose community is it really? They live in a college town, the college isn’t invading their pristine city. If they don’t like living in a college town, get out of it. Silly townies.

  4. College housing as we know it is identified and defined in the
    building code section 701 as “dormitory”. Attorney general’s
    opinions as well as building code interpretations, recognize this distinction and many cities, including college towns, use it to control the location of group housing with transient occupancy.

    The creators of the Oswego zoning ordinance,used the same definition and specifically forbade “dormitories” in the strictest residential zones, nor in others without a special permit.

    City officials have ignored this provision and allowed college
    housing to be presumed “single family residences”, recalling our grandparents use 70 years ago–picket fences and geraniums in the front yard.

    Thus these places exist, in direct opposition to law, without
    variance or permit and with much more lenient building code requirements.

    It seems obvious, that the impassable sidewalks and snow storage problems are substantially and immediately relieved by enforcing codes as written, to say nothing about infractions involving noise and liquor. Instead, our officials waste countless hours on ridiculous moratoria, definitions of family, interminable tweaks and more unenforced penalties.

    Our leaders apparently assume that the proper regulations are hidden away somewhere along party lines or in an amended version of the code that our administrators might agree to enforce, never in the law as is. A city can be “aggrieved” by the administration of its zoning ordinance.(Marshall v. Quinones (43 App. Div.2d 436). Nowhere is that more true than here.

  5. A 19 year old is not going to be deterred from getting to a house party if he has to walk a few more blocks from bridge street. There seems to be a population of elderly people in this city with nothing better to do than complain. Their lives are so miserable that they do not like to see anyone else have a good time or grow a successful business. The issue is not the transportation services that are being provided. The issue is a misunderstanding of the culture of a college town and the failure of authority to enforce laws. Quite frankly, if you do not like things being how they have always been in the city, leave. College students contribute a huge portion to this city’s already terrible economy. Without them there would be an even larger population of welfare leeches. The bus companies provide a legitimate service and create jobs in a city with huge unemployment. No good reason for this code change.

  6. As a recent graduate of SUNY Oswego & someone who lived off-campus for 2 of my 3.5 years of study I think it is appalling that people are trying to get rid of the drunk-bus.

    At the end of the day, Oswego is not a business town, it is not a place that would thrive without the influx of 9,000 students every year. People choose to live in in a college town. The drunk bus keeps students from walking drunk, driving drunk, and all of the associated aftermath on the streets that comes from being drunk (ie: using your lawn as a bathroom). If you have a problem with it then move out of the main part of town. The housing is cheap enough for 20 year olds without jobs, if you have a problem with them living there and you can’t afford to move out then maybe you should re-evaluate your life.

    Since graduating Oswego in 2008, I have lived in my hometown of Albany, NY..moved to an upscale area: Saratoga , NY…taken a temporary job in Buffalo NY..and finally settled in Manhattan. In all of these towns I can confidently say that Oswego has been the quietest, most peaceful place to live.

    If people have an issue with noise, drunken people, or college students then move to Florida where everyone goes to retire. Otherwise, if it’s not drunk college kids, its cows, city, woods, or something else making the noise. Pick your poison & be happy there’s someone keeping the drunk kids from behind the wheel.

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