As many are working to bring tourism back to New York City, NYC powerbroker Kathryn Wylde’s call for the elimination of tour buses in the city’s central district is a head-scratcher for many.
Especially considering motorcoach tourists typically generate an estimated $4.15 billion per year in revenue for the Big Apple.
In the recent issue of Crain’s New York Business dedicated to the role that tourism is playing in the resurgence of the city, Wylde said: “We should rededicate street space in New York City to new uses. I think it’s time to stop the tour bus traffic. I’d like to put that on the list of things to get rid of.”
“We find Ms. Wylde’s stated desire to rid the city of tour buses to be woefully misguided,” said Glenn R. Every, President of BUS4NYC Coalition. “Buses are not only environmentally friendly, the most efficient method of moving people, the choice of millions of commuters and the key to relieving traffic congestion — they are also an economic lifeline that directly benefits Broadway, restaurants, hotels, museums and virtually all other facets of the NYC tourism industry.”
He’s not alone in his assessment. George Lence, Former Chief Operating Officer for NYC & Company, also sees tour buses as crucial to NYC’s economic success and efforts to reduce congestion.
“Tour buses are a critically important part of New York’s tourism infrastructure, and from an environmental point of view, every bus on the street takes up to 80 cars off the road,” Lence said in a message to Bus & Motorcoach News. “When you see a packed bus pass by, you should smile.”
Comments are ‘reckless’
For Stephanie Lee, Wylde’s comment borders on reckless.
Lee is the President and CEO of Group Sales Box Office, a subsidiary of the John Gore Organization. Her father, who founded Group Sales Box Office, 62 years ago, taught her the importance of the motorcoach industry to the success of their family business before selling to her nearly 20 years ago.
“There’s no way we could get all of these tourists into the theater district without buses,” Lee said. “Kathryn Wylde’s statements that she wants to rid Manhattan’s central business districts of tour buses is reckless.”
“She claims there’s a growing consensus to rid tour buses in these areas. Who’s the growing consensus? I’ve never been asked. I couldn’t imagine tour buses being excluded from Times Square. We rely on tourism as a lifeline for Broadway. Those groups aren’t just coming to Broadway. They’re staying at the hotels. They’re dining at the restaurants. They’re seeing all of the attractions that the greatest city in the world city has to offer.”
Wylde is President of Partnership for NYC, a not-for-profit that advocates with the New York city and state government on behalf of large businesses. She is a powerbroker whose name frequents lists of the city’s most influential. Her fifth-floor office in One Battery Park Plaza is next to a major stop for tour buses, and that may play a role in fueling her dislike of bus traffic.
The Crain’s article noted that domestic tourists are returning to New York City in greater numbers despite concerns over the Delta variant and rising COVID cases. Sourcing the Times Square Alliance, the story noted that more than 200,000 people per day passed through the iconic entertainment district during August, which was double the foot traffic from March.
The city is on track to recapture more than half of the 66.6 million tourists who visited in 2019, with a projection for 36.1 million tourists in 2021, NYC & Company, the city’s official destination marketing organization, told Crain’s.
“There is such extraordinary appeal to the arts, cultural and dining scenes in New York City,” Chris Heywood, Executive Vice President of Global Communications at NYC & Company, which launched a $30 million advertising campaign in June to promote the city, told the publication.
As Broadway theaters reopen, they are depending on motorcoaches to bring groups to performances. In its last season, Broadway had a $14.7 billion annual economic impact and employed 97,000 people, according to the story.
Lee, who serves on the American Bus Association board as her father did, said ABA’s research shows buses moved over 7 million group tour visitors a year. Nearly all the 600,000 Broadway group tickets Lee’s operation sold in 2018 traveled on bus and motorcoach. These groups range from students to senior citizens and every type of group in between.
“What’s Ms. Wylde’s solution?” Lee asked. “I can’t imagine a group of 52 kids taking the subway together, or having them ride their bikes together or walking through traffic together? Do you drop senior citizens off at West Side Highway and have them walk?”
“I’m a New Yorker. I even have a car, and I don’t like congestion. I’m confident there’s got to be a practical solution to address traffic congestion and related concerns. Ridding New York City of tour buses is definitely not the answer.”
Buses are a solution
In its letter to Wylde, GNJMA requested an opportunity to start a conversation with her in hopes of educating her about the value of tour buses to NYC.
“Our aim is to open a dialogue on the value of our industry to NYC, and to see us as a solution to issues facing NYC, including congestion and tourism,” GNJMA wrote. “We are very involved in conversations with Port Authority on parking, tolling, and on issues relating to congestion, including congestion pricing.”
The letter explained that overall annual sales in NYC from motorcoach tourists totaled $4.15 billion. Motorcoach operators, hotels, entertainment venues, restaurants and retailers that serve these travelers, along with the companies that supply services and materials to them, provide well-paying jobs in New York and pay significant taxes to state and local governments.
Statistics show that New York serves more than 6 million motorcoach group tourist equivalent people on day trips, and an additional 1.5 million on overnight stays, for a total of more than 7.5 million tour visitors.
Patricia A. Cowley, GNJMA Executive Director, said she received this succinct response from Wylde declining further conversation: “Let’s agree to disagree. There is growing consensus that tour buses do not belong in the Central Business Districts of Manhattan.”
Causes of congestion
In response to Bus & Motorcoach News’ request for context to her comment, Wylde responded: “The streets of the central business district suffer from excess congestion, and we are losing space on the streets every day. The cost of excess traffic congestion is more than $20 billion a year, and tour buses are a major contributor to the problem. New Yorkers are making the modal shift from private vehicles to public transit and bikes. Visitors to the city should do the same.”
But that argument falls short, said BUS4NYC Coalition’s Every, who pointed out that a closer examination of the causes of congestion will show that cars, personal package delivery vans and trucks, and for-hire vehicles take up far more of the available streetscape, leave a bigger carbon footprint and are far less efficient at conveying passengers than a bus.
He noted that this has been proven with the 14th Street corridor and other bus lane expansions, which show bus-only lanes with no cars create a much smoother traffic flow.
“We couldn’t agree more that congestion is a major problem in the central business district and that a modal shift to public transit (and bikes) would certainly help,” Every wrote. “Where we part ways is with the exclusion of buses as an acceptable mode of public transit. This makes no sense whatsoever. Buses provide the riding public (residents and visitors alike) with the most efficient means of transport available. Buses delivered our frontline workers during the pandemic, but now they should not be allowed on our streets to transport tourists, commuters and people coming to Broadway?”