Tour Guides Protest Possible Replacement by Audio Recordings

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New York City tour guides protested proposed plans by the city’s biggest tour bus company to replace its staff with audio recordings outside City Hall on Tuesday.

Gray Lines New York told the union that represents the guides last week that it plans to reduce its staff by two-thirds in January 2012 so it can be in compliance with a law that requires open-air sight-seeing buses to be equipped with personal headphones, replacing existing PA systems. Companies are required to complete installation of the headphones by July 2015.

When the so-called Head Sets Bill was passed in April 2010, there was no mention of layoffs or job protection in the bill. With layoffs announced, tour guides are now calling on the City Council to amend the legislation to ensure they are kept on buses.

Company spokesmen for Twin America, which owns Gray Lines New York, were not available for comment.

Jack D'Orio, who has been a tour guide for 17 years, demonstrated outside City Hall and said tourists will miss out if pre-recorded audio replaces tour guides.

“We do a lot of things on that bus,” D'Orio said. “We make recommendations, give information other than what’s on the routes. We help people who might be in danger of getting hurt on the bus. We assist the driver. We do a lot more than simply talk in a mic. We’re a big part of the tour.”

Council member Gale Brewer, the bill’s main sponsor, said the law was not intended to cost guides their jobs.

(Photo: Tour guides rally outside City Hall Tuesday to protest use of audio recordings on tour buses. Natasja Sheriff/WNYC)


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Comments [6]

Marcos from the Bronx

I agree with Steve, that the Headset Bill was ill conceived, but put in perspective of some $20 million annual profits and around 30% profit margin for Gray Line NYC, the headset law is not a major burden.

Laying off live guides would radically reduce the quality of service to many NYC visitors. In a marketplace with a healthy amount of competition, companies would have an incentive to give better service. But, Twin America, has been operating both City Sights and Gray Line in what is obviously an illegal monopoly for nearly three years now. Since anti-trust regulators have not been able to move fast enough, we need the City to move in to protect consumers, the tourism industry, and living wage jobs. Quality, Safety, Real Live Guides for A Real Live City.

Dec. 02 2011 12:58 PM

problem is the poor tourists who have limited time and want to see a lot will not know their choices, or be able to boycott Gray Line in favor of something better. NYC is known for the flavor of its verbal exchange....let them automate in Omaha.

Nov. 30 2011 04:40 PM
shashinyc from NYC

Right, Steve...Apart from equipment loss and maintenance, this tech model WILL be a disaster because...who would want to wear a headset previously clapped over the orifices of who-knows-how-many strangers?! You know they're not going to be cleaned between tours...Yechhhhh!

Nov. 30 2011 12:56 PM
Steve from NYC

This is yet another example of over regulation.

I feel bad for the tour guides and agree that a tour with a live person is better than a recording, however, the City, State and Federal Governments can't regulate business to such extents.

The bus companies now must incur the cost of headsets, have texts recorded, maintain broken, stolen and missing equipment as well as incur additional costs for compliance. It makes economic sense that jobs would be lost to pay for these new rules.

Nov. 30 2011 11:25 AM

Exactly how many documented noise complaints over what period of time and in how many neighborhoods led to passage of the Head Sets Bill? Was the evidence vetted by the City Council? One must ask how many complaints merits a bill that costs NYC union workers their jobs.How does the Council know complaints were not planted by the two major tour bus companies in order to pave the way for lucrative layoffs? This needs to be investigated.

The real question is: why must guides be fired when there is a cheap low-tech solution: head sets through which passengers hear the narrative of their human tour guide. This whole business smells big-time!

Nov. 30 2011 09:21 AM
Jeanette Larson from Aujstin, TX

As a visitor to NYC I would not bother with a bus tour that only has recorded commentary. I like to be able to ask questions!

Nov. 30 2011 08:42 AM

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