At least one fatality and approximately 40 injuries were directly attributable to tour buses since 2002, according the City’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), the agency that licenses and regulates the industry. But these figures may understated, because the DCA acknowledged in 2014 that there is no legal requirement for tour bus operators to report accidents. This results in DCA being legally unable to consider safety records when renewing licenses for the companies that operate tour buses.
Moreover, in dramatic contrast with almost every other type of license issued by the DCA, there is no statutory limit on the number of permits that can be issued to sightseeing bus companies. And the fee charged by the City for these lucrative franchises is surprisingly meager: a maximum of $100 per bus for a two-year permit. This appears to mean that the first two passengers who board a Gray Line double decker bus on January 1 (each paying $64) have more than satisfied the company’s obligations to the public treasury for the year.
Chin: “For years, Downtown residents have demanded relief from seemingly endless lines of sightseeing tour buses. It is time that those serious safety and quality-of-life concerns are heard, and that reasonable limits on the number of double-decker tour buses are made.”
As the Fix NYC report notes, “making matters worse, tour buses fall into a murky regulatory area where they evade many regulations, leading to numerous safety violations and accidents in recent years.”
Brewer: “We need to set ground rules for this industry. That includes limits and regulations for an industry that puts hundreds of extra buses on our streets.”
“The multiple tour buses piled up at curbs or cruising the streets when they’re nearly empty make our point for us,” said Ms. Brewer. “We need to set ground rules for this industry. To seriously tackle street congestion and related quality-of-life problems, everything needs to be on the table. That includes limits and regulations for an industry thats put hundreds of extra buses on our streets.”
The new legislation, which would require the DCA to impose, “reasonable limits to the number of sightseeing tour buses,” is a reprise of a similar measure introduced (but never passed) in 2015.
Lower Manhattan community leaders have long urged the implementation of such limits. In May, 2016, Catherine McVay Hughes (then chair of Community Board 1) testified at a City Council hearing that Lower Manhattan’s, “vehicular congestion is compounded by the sheer number of double-decker tour buses, tour buses, personal vehicles and commuter buses that fill our streets. This congestion leads to critical issues such as emergency vehicles being impeded by blocked streets, resulting in a dangerous increase in response times.”
In some ways, New York’s current proposed measure is mild, compared to solutions adopted by other, comparable cities. In 2016, Rome banned tour buses from the areas around the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain, while drastically increasing license fees for districts in which the buses were allowed to continue operating. And last fall, the California state legislature enacted a law allowing local governments to regulate the tour bus industry more tightly. Weeks later, Los Angeles banned the vehicles entirely from several particularly congested districts, such as the Hollywood Hills, and imposed tighter operating restrictions on the areas where they remained.
And New York itself has occasionally taken swift and harsh action against tour bus operators. In May, 2000, City and State regulators moved in concert to shut down New York Apple Tours, after one of its buses struck and killed an elderly pedestrian in Midtown. In the aftermath of this accident, it emerged that many of the company’s drivers had never been issued the commercial license required to operate a bus, while the fleet had also accrued more than 1,000 traffic violations, along with some $8 million in outstanding fines. Within nine months, the company had been forced out of business.