Enforcement Lags as Tour Bus Companies Flout Pollution Regs

Comptroller William Thompson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer want the city to enforce a law mandating that sightseeing buses reduce harmful emissions. Meanwhile, a citizen group called "Tour Buses No — Tourists Yes" also wants the buses off residential streets.

287454515_15df12ebde.jpgIn separate letters issued this month to the Department of Environmental Protection, Thompson and Stringer present lists of unanswered questions pertaining to Local Law 41, adopted by the City Council in May 2005. The law required that all tour buses with engines that are at least three years old be retrofitted with best available technologies to reduce diesel particulate levels, and gave companies until January 2007 to either do the retrofits or apply for waivers.

Over three years later, only one company, Gray Line, has brought any of its buses into compliance. According to a DEP report, as of last August just 61 of the 204 tour buses on New York streets meet the law’s requirements. The report, Thompson wrote, "shows a very disturbing lack of progress and, in fact, a widespread non-compliance with the law."

According to a 1999 study referenced in a recent New York Post article, a typical Gray Line bus "emit[s] about 25 times more diesel particles than the average bus."

Thompson takes the DEP to task for its tardiness in issuing the first of its required annual reports pertaining to Local Law 41. It was eight months late and, judging by the follow-up questions submitted by Thompson and Stringer, left many issues unaddressed, such as whether DEP is recommending license revocation for companies that aren’t obeying the law.

"Tour Buses No — Tourists Yes" is not only concerned with air pollution, but also noise pollution and physical safety. In September, sight-impaired West Village resident Lloyd Burlingame told NY1:

"I have to depend on my hearing to know when to cross the street and these tour buses, between the racket they make and these guys blathering, I put myself in danger every time they’re here and I try to cross the street. So it’s a particular problem for people like me."

Also in the NY1 report, City Council Member Alan Gerson said he wants legislation that would regulate tour bus times of operation, routes and frequency. (Enforcement, apparently, is another matter.) And said Villager Milton Polsky: "We have nothing against the tourists, but we’d like to see them walk and enjoy our wonderful sights here."

Photo: Richard Hsu/Flickr

  • Perhaps part of the solution is to get the word out to tourists that New York is a walkable city, and that a walking tour (guided or self-guided) is much more satisfying than watching the city go by from a bus.

  • I often work in SoHo where the buses roll through a lot and a lot of them use the Bus Only Lane along Broadway. I’ve often wondered if that lane is for them or not. I mean city buses are full of commuters who have somewhere to be by a certain time, I’m not 100% sold that tour buses do or should belong in that category too.

  • Better to have tour busses on Broadway if we’re going to have them at all. I live just off Bleecker Street where we have more tour busses clogging up this narrow street than anyone would ever imagine. They’re too big to round the turn at Bleecker and LaGuardia Place so most times they ride up on the sidewalk posing an immediate danger to pedestrians – particularly seniors or parents with small children.

    While it may be possible to rein in local companies like Grey Line, what happens with Canadian tour busses, like Les Quebecquois, who don’t even bother to get US plates? If Canadian companies are going to have tour services in New York City they should have to register their busses and abide by the same regulations as their competitors.

  • No I mean I’m not sure the tour buses are or should be allowed in the bus only lane on Broadway, not that they shouldn’t be on Broadway at all.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Why doesn’t the DEP have the authority to simply seize the vehicle? In California a vehicle can be seized and impounded and even scrapped if it is operated on a road without meeting emissions requirements.

  • Tour Buses No -Tourists Yes!

    Please join our group of concerned citizens in our efforts to pass
    local laws introduced to the City Council by Council Member Alan J. Gerson.
    Intro 742 requires headsets to eliminate microphone noise on sight-seeing buses, Intro 836 would require bus companies to submit routes to Department of Consumer Affairs fornew licenses and renewal licenses.

    Please contact Council Member Gerson in support of his proposed legislation

    Please also ask Speaker Quinn to schedule hearings on this proposed legislation and ask City Council Consumer Affairs Committee Chair Leroy Comrie to support this legislation.

    You can contact Council Member Gerson at gerson@council.nyc.ny.us
    212-788-7722

    You can contact Speeaker Christine Quinn at quinn@council.nyc.ny.us – 212-788-6210

    You can contact Council Member Leroy Comrie at comrie@council.nyc.ny.us
    212-788-7084

    Contact your own Council Member

    Contct your friends and neighbors

    We need support and volunteers in our citywide effort to deal with this
    major noise, public safety, congestion and pollution problem.

    Walking tourists welcome….visit our neighborhoods…shop at our local
    merchants….chat with the residents

    Judith Chazen Walsh
    Tour Buses No – Tourists Yes!
    busesnotouristsyes@nyc.rr.com

  • Saffron Cooker

    Let’s take the buses and redistribute them. The poorly run companies get more buses and dollars to upgrade them. The well run companies have few buses, but provide the dollars to upgrade the emissions. Should go over well here in our fair city.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Judith, fyi: Using my real name, I did contact CM Gerson’s office, hoping to build support from Brooklynites with similar concerns. His staff was polite but not at all interested in coalition building, so I moved on to the next issue. Just thought you should know.

  • Tour Buses No -Tourists Yes!

    Jeffrey Hyman

    Thanks for your very important comment
    Since Mr. Gerson is our Council Member
    I will make sure your comments are
    brought to his attention

    Please contact us by eMail……busesnotouristsyes@nyc.rr.com
    As concerned citizens, we are interested in coalition building
    on all citywide issues

    To anyone who has similar comments, please do contact us

    Judith Chazen Walsh

  • paulb

    About time this came up. Those tour buses have filthy exhausts, like the city buses 15 years ago. This commercial diesel thing needs draconian enforcement.

  • James

    As a Gray Line employee I have to tell you how concerned we are with the emissions working near and on these buses. The maintenance is poor. Buses break down all the time. The air conditioning and heating are frequently broken. The buses fill with water because the drains are clogged. The microphones also, often don’t work or just intermittently. The tourists suffer from this as well as the employees. The weather domes are so scratched people can not see. The lower deck is often wrapped in advertising so people can’t see out the window. The tourists are getting a bad service. The City of New York is getting a bad name. The City Council should really call hearings since they wouldn’t have these bus stops if the City hadn’t given them the street space. The tourist comments about Gray Line can be read at tripadvisor.com. The tourists don’t know to call 311 and leave a complaint with the City.

  • Marcos

    The workers at Grayline would very much like the city make our company be a good corporate citizen. Who breathes in those poluted emisions the most? We do.

    But, please do not indulge in meaness towards the workers. If you prick us we will bleed. We are New Yorkers. Most of us who work as tourguides, are passionately in love with New York City. We suffer the elements and mistreatment from Grayline, to share that love and offer welcome to visitors. We help visitors transition into transit. We encourage them to use the subway and municipal busses after their tickets expire. We encourage visitors to walk. We are the face of New York for many visitors.

    I think “Tour Buses No-Tourists Yes” is a false premise. Well regulated tour bus companies who respect their workers and guests have role to play in a green tourist industry. Don’t forget you are talking about mass transit. The alternative to local tour bus service is not tourists walking more.

    No, please, this is to important to conjecture about without understanding.

    If “Tour Buses No” eradicated local tour bus service what we would see instead would be 1)More well off tourists being shown around town in gas guzzling towncars, limosines, and SUVs.
    2)More Chartered coach busses often with out of town drivers unprepared for the city, and unlicensed guides.
    3)Tourists who go some where else rather than face NYC without a guided tour service they can afford.
    4)Tourists who never, ever leave Times Sqaure.

    Please lets speak respectfully, and responsibly. Please help Graylines workers in our struggle to make Grayline respectful and responsible as well.

    Hey ya’ll let me also make a radical suggestion. Why shouldn’t the MTA take over this business? Guided double decker bus tour services could be a great revenue generator to help support transit in this city overall. I’m sure the MTA would be a more responsible boss than Grayline (Coach USA).

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