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Illegal party buses a continuing problem in Oklahoma

A letter sent to the operators of a party bus that failed to get property authority to operate from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. (KOKH)

Are you considering taking a group outing to tour the Christmas lights or maybe having your New Year's Eve party go on the road? If so, you might be considering a party bus. However, before you board the bus you need to do your homework.

“It is very important to make sure the carrier has the insurance that is required by law,” said Matt Skinner with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The OCC licenses party buses and limo services. The licensing requires carriers prove they have the necessary insurance before they’re allowed to do business.

In the case of party buses, which are defined as vehicles that can carry more than 15 passengers, a $5 million policy is required.

“Let's just do the math,” Skinner said when asked why a $5 million policy is required, “There's 20 people and there's a terrible accident you can easily see if you divide 20 into $5 million how quickly that could add up.”

The OCC says unlicensed party buses are a problem and it is important for potential customers to know just because someone has a bus it doesn’t mean it is safe to get on board.

“The longer somebody has been in business usually the better chances you are dealing with someone who is reputable and carrying the insurance,” Skinner said. He also pointed to the OCC website as a quick way to find out if the bus you want to book is following the law.

The commission updates the list of licensed bus operators regularly.

FOX 25 began looking into party buses advertising in the metro. We found one operator who told would-be clients to check the OCC’s list of licensed operators. However, the OCC said that operator was not current and issued a “cease and desist” letter. The operator had been operating without an OCC license for months and the letter said the agency would levy a $500-a-day fine if the operator continued to book buses without proving it had the necessary insurance.

The commission says it takes tips from the public seriously when it comes to safety of party buses or limos. Budget cuts have cut back on the number of employees they have to monitor compliance with the law.

“Yes,” Skinner said, “We don't have the personnel to do [daily monitor party bus advertisements] but at the same time, of course, it is much easier for a business to advertise, a little bit under the radar because of social media and Craigslist and things like that.”

If you don't check the commission before you get on the bus and the bus is stopped the entire party could be left finding other transportation. Skinner said they have heard of cases of people being stranded when an illegal party bus was pulled over by law enforcement and it was discovered the bus did was not properly licensed.

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