While the fight has generally avoided landing on page one, being the lead story on local television news or anywhere near a lead item on any online news service, it is intense and, judging from the tenor of the public dialogue, an issue that the New York tour and travel industry would just as soon avoid dealing with. That is, should there be stricter limits on the number of those familiar, double-decker tour buses that ply the streets of Manhattan and are a critical mode of sightseeing for international travelers visiting New York City?
The perspective of locals on tour buses and their passengers is a tortured one, perhaps best captured in a recent commentary by Nick Pinto, a columnist for the Village Voice: “They are crucial to our economy, pumping tens of billions of dollars into the city every year, but they clot entire neighborhoods for seasons at a time; their pilgrimage validates our certainty that we live at the center of the universe but, Jesus Christ, do they insist on ambling down the sidewalk four abreast at speeds that wouldn’t save them if they were being pursued by a carnivorous plant? We need them, but we’ve made a sport of resenting them.”
What triggered the lamentation—and others like it—are proposals made by some New York City Council members that would limit the number and operating practices of tour buses working Manhattan. The passion on the issue came forth at a recent city council meeting that attracted some key players in the city’s tour and travel industry. While some might deem the issue a local one, it is of enough significance that an official from the American Bus Association (ABA) also showed up, generating a “heads up” posting on the association’s website.
The number one issue at hand is the number of buses. Currently, there are 237 such buses registered to carry tourists about Manhattan. There were just 57 in 2003, according to the New York City Department of Transportation. A search of news data bases does not suggest any significant opposition to the buses—there were a few instances in which some visitors thought the sales tactics of tour bus representatives on some mid-town sidewalks too aggressive—until the past couple of years. It seems that the bus tours have included stops near the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan, which brings the buses through neighborhoods with narrower streets and which are largely residential.
At a Sept. 26 meeting that they New York City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs held jointly with the council’s Committee on Transportation Hearing on Sightseeing Bus Industry, Council Member Margaret Chin, whose district includes much of Lower Manhattan, put it this way: “It is an issue when four, five, or six near-empty buses clog up the street, spilling noxious fumes through residents’ windows.”
Do the Remedies Include Bus Vigilantes?
—Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer would put a limit on the number of license plates issued to tour buses at 225. Such a move is opposed, however, by smaller tour bus companies—there are just eight tour bus companies operating in Manhattan—as well as some businesses in the city’s other boroughs who would like to see new tour bus itineraries extended into The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.
—What alarmed ABA was a session the day after the meeting cited above, of the City Council Committee on Environmental Protection. It met to discuss legislation that, in the words of ABA, “could have sweeping effects for the motorcoach industry and potentially all vehicles entering the City. The proposal in front of this committee looked to not only significantly increase the fines (by 50 percent) for violating New York City’s strict 3-minute anti-idling laws, but also looks to allow for the “deputizing” of citizens to expand the reach of law enforcement in policing this law along with encouraging the submission of video evidence of violations. The proposal goes further and actually incentivizes and will pay citizens for the successful prosecution of idling violators from the fines collected, as much as 50 percent of the fine amount.”
—Yet another measure would require that bus companies secure approval for their routes and stop locations from the Department of Transportation before they can get a license to operate from the Department of Consumer Affairs
Where it Goes from Here: We were unable to get a sense of when the legislative measures might come out of committee or when the full New York City Council might get around to them. News accounts seemed to suggest that nothing will happen until next year. In the meantime, the Inbound Report had difficulty finding anyone in the industry in New York City to talk about it—likely because the limitation measure pits one part of the industry against another.
As for a limit on the number of buses, if it is a matter of adopting the 225-bus limit it or doing nothing, the limit might have a good chance. At the Sept. 26 committee hearing by Laura Rothrock, a spokesperson for Twin America, the dominant player in the market, said that the company supports the limit. (Twin America includes City Sights New York and Gray Line New York.) Also, Rothrock is part of the influential PR and communications firm of Nicholas and Lentz, whose co-founder and CEO, Cristyne Nicolas, is a former president and CEO of New York City & Company.
To see the ABA post on the issue, click on: