Following an increase in buses of asylum seekers arriving in Chicago suburbs from Texas, Winnetka on Tuesday, Jan. 9, became the first community in New Trier Township to pass an ordinance regulating the bus traffic.
The Winnetka Village Council voted 6-0 to restrict unscheduled, one-way buses in its community, in addition to adopting guidelines for bus drivers if they do come to Winnetka.
North Shore communities — including Winnetka, Wilmette and Highland Park — have seen a rise in unscheduled bus dropoffs over the past few weeks, including one at the Hubbard Woods Metra station on Christmas Day, Dec. 25.
While Winnetka is the first community in New Trier Township to adopt regulations, Village Attorney Peter Friedman said at least 36 other nearby villages and towns have put new rules in place. He specifically mentioned Lake Bluff and Libertyville as two of those communities, and the Highland Park City Council will consider similar regulations during its next meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 16.
The new Winnetka law prohibits unscheduled and one-way “intercity” bus dropoffs. Friedman defined intercity buses as those “that are providing one-way transportation of 10 or more passengers, originating outside the Village, and that are not providing a regularly scheduled service.”
The new ordinance applies to migrant buses like the one that arrived Dec. 25 without prior notice.
Friedman said it restricts the drop-off times to between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, requires an approved arrival time when the bus must arrive within 30 minutes, and designates the Indian Hill Metra station parking lot as the drop-off zone.
“There must be some coordination provided for the disembarkment of the passengers, and there needs to be advanced approval upon application to the village manager,” he said. “And the application for that approval has to be provided five days in advance of the scheduled arrival.”
Additionally, dropoffs are restricted to one per day, and bus owners must provide information on the owners, operators and drivers of the bus, plus who contracted the bus, vehicle information, the number of passengers, and a plan for when the passengers come off the bus.
The approval can be revoked if false information is discovered in the application process, according to Friedman. He added that if the rules are not followed, there will be a fine to the bus operators of up to $750 per passenger and Village costs. In some instances, he said the Winnetka Police Department will have the authority to impound the bus.
Trustee Kirk Albinson asked Friedman how the process would play out.
He explained that the Village already has a draft application ready. Once completed, there would be a scheduled time for the bus to arrive “so that we can allocate resources and plan for resources as opposed to being caught unprepared.”
Friedman said he’s talked with other communities who have said the dropoffs have required all their public safety resources to ensure the passengers get off the buses and move on safely.
Albinson asked Friedman to clarify that this does not mean that Winnetka will not allow buses at all.
“So, this isn’t in any means a measure to prevent a scheduled dropoff,” Albinson said. “It just regulates the process to do a dropoff, correct?”
Friedman confirmed that was the case.
“And it ensures the better treatment, health, safety and welfare of the passengers as well as the community,” he said.
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.