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Testimony on New York City Council Int. 723 requiring sightseeing bus operators to submit operating plans to the DOT

The following testimony was submitted on behalf of Kathryn Wylde, President & CEO of the Partnership for New York City.

Thank you Chair Espinal and members of the committee for the opportunity to testify on Int. 723, sponsored by the Speaker. The Partnership for New York City represents the city’s business leaders and largest private sector employers working to enhance the economy of the five boroughs of New York City and maintain the city’s position as the pre-eminent global center of commerce, innovation and economic opportunity.

The Partnership recognizes the important contributions of the tourism industry to New York City. At the same time, we question the economic value of sightseeing buses, specifically in Manhattan south of 60th Street, during the business week. In December, 2017, the Partnership released a study of the cost of traffic congestion that identified $20 billion a year in economic losses and costs due to congestion that is largely generated by traffic to and from the central business districts of Manhattan. While our study did not quantify the extent to which tour buses contribute to the congestion problem, there is ample anecdotal evidence that their negative impact is substantial. Moreover, there is no credible, independent study that has determined that tour buses are a net contributor to the city economy.

The Manhattan central business districts should be off-limits to tour buses since the streets do not have capacity to handle them. There is inadequate curbside space and nowhere for these buses to park on weekdays, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There are plenty of alternative means of transportation for visitors seeking to move around Manhattan, including MTA transit, new ferry and bike services, as well as taxies, liveries and for-hire vehicles.

Conditions in Manhattan streets are not suited to sightseeing bus activity. The average speed of vehicular travel in the central business district is only 6.8 miles per hour – a situation that gets worse every year. The sidewalks that buses use for passenger waiting, loading and unloading are equally as congested as the streets.

There are serious safety and air quality concerns associated with sightseeing buses, which regularly stop at unauthorized locations and are often seen idling at the curb. The common practice of “stacking” buses at popular sites takes up multiple lanes on overcrowded streets. These problems are most acute in neighborhoods with a confluence of tourist attractions, a high density of people and vehicles, and narrow streets and sidewalks. Int. 723 is a first step toward assessment of the value of the tour bus industry, hopefully paving the way for stricter regulation of its activity. If passed, it would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to authorize where buses can stop. DOT would be empowered to collect bus location data to help with these decisions and could attach conditions to the authorization of stops. Violations could be grounds for license revocation.

Governor Cuomo’s Fix NYC panel, which recommended better traffic management and congestion pricing, specifically identified the need to study the negative contribution of tour buses to the high cost of traffic congestion. We suggest such a study be undertaken and that, in the interim, there be a reduction of authorized buses navigating Manhattan south of 60th Street during weekday business hours. The Partnership looks forward to working with the Council on this issue.

Thank you.