Private charter bus companies seem to have discovered a lucrative enterprise in transporting partygoers to and from bars and nightclubs. However, these companies may find themselves confronted with newly minted parking restrictions.
City officials are considering an amendment to chapter 90 of Ordinance No. 2007-026 which concerns vehicles for hire, in order to prevent “party buses” from parking in residential neighborhoods.
The request originated from the Neighborhood Commission, and later made it to the San Marcos City Council’s discussion table during the most recent meeting.
“The problem as I understand it is that we have buses loading and unloading in residential neighborhoods,” said city councilwoman Jane Hughson, Place 4. “The apartment complexes that the bus companies primarily cater to are near these neighborhoods.”
Logically, it makes sense for charter bus services to load and unload near apartment complexes that house many of their customers, Hughson said. But when the apartments are unable to provide adequate parking space, the buses simply drop clients off in nearby neighborhoods, leaving customers to walk the short distance back to their homes.
“I personally have no problem with people getting on buses and going up to Austin, maybe drinking some alcohol and partying,” Hughson said. “But an issue arises when these buses park in the middle of the neighborhoods. These buses are picking up folks around 9 or 10 in the evening, and dropping them back off at two or three in the morning. Those who have had a drink tend to get a little louder, maybe tend to do things you wouldn’t typically do at 2 in the afternoon.”
Noise complaints have been brought to the attention of the city as a result of such incidents. Noise presents an issue for residents who have to go to work in the morning, Hughson said. It could be a problem for students who might have early-morning classes the following day.
“We need to make sure that private charter bus companies have made arrangements for parking,” Hughson said. “This whole idea really came about as a parking location issue.”
Currently, there are at least four private charter bus companies operating within San Marcos, perhaps as a testament to the economic success of such services. Parking for taxicabs, pedicabs, Uber and Lyft are regulated, but there are no regulations in place for charter buses in town.
“It has been suggested that these bus companies be required to keep a manifest—that is, maintain a record of all trips made and how many people were serviced on each trip,” Hughson said. “We would not require that the names of clients be kept, however.”
City council is still looking into the issue, and the topic will continue to be discussed, Hughson said. All changes to an ordinance take a minimum of two meetings to be put into effect.
“We must provide sufficient offset parking,” Hughson said. “One option for buses may be that they will have to rent spaces from the university or make arrangements with large shopping centers that can provide parking lots or other open spaces.”
Having pickup and loading locations downtown is out of the question, as the bus clients’ cars will be taking up parking spaces that could otherwise be used by shoppers, Hughson said.
However, many bus companies like Skyline and Lonestar cater to private parties, and are often asked to pick residents up directly in front of their homes.
“We don’t offer hourly service, so we don’t do apartment trips,” said Sara Nadeau, Skyline representative. “We try to be as close as we can to the customer, but there’s no set pickup location.”
There has been concern among the community that preventing buses to drop customers off directly in front of their apartments will encourage clients to drive home drunk.
“I feel like it does encourage drunk driving,” Mackenzie Lawrence, theater sophomore. “I mean, that’s the whole point of why people go on party buses in the first place—so they don’t have to drive home afterwards.”
Lawrence said she has been on party buses multiple times, and that they do tend to return to San Marcos around 2 or 3 in the morning.
“One time, the bus dropped us off at Capstone,” Lawrence said. “Another time, we were dropped at another apartment complex somewhere down Aquarena. It makes sense that nobody wants loud, drunk people getting off a bus outside their house in the middle of the night, but the drive back from Sixth Street doesn’t give people enough time to sober up.”
Even if customers have regained some driving capabilities by the time the bus drops them off, it still isn’t safe to get into a vehicle after a night of drinking, Lawrence said.
This ordinance will only apply to party bus companies whose destination or city of origin is San Marcos.
“We couldn’t regulate out-of-town buses that pass through, even if we wanted to,” Hughson said. “Those drivers have no way of knowing what our regulations are or how to comply with them.”