Seattle wants two-person teams on tour buses after deadly accident


SEATTLE -- Michael Rogers prefers giving tours -- but feels as though he's being taken for a ride as of late.

The longtime small business owner spoke before the Seattle City Council Wednesday, saying a proposed city ordinance could drive up the cost of tickets on his city tours by nearly 50 percent.

"It has a significant impact on our business," said Rogers, the owner of Show Me Seattle tours. "It will affect our competitiveness, so people will start looking at different options -- especially families who are visiting us on a budget."

City leaders are considering mandating local tour buses have both a driver and a guide on board. The proposed changes come in the wake of a deadly accident involving a 'Ride the Ducks' tour vehicle in September. Five people were killed and dozens more were injured when the vehicle collided with a charter bus carrying college students.

The 'Ducks' returned to the road in January, amid a number of changes, including two-person tour teams on each vehicle.

"There's lots of recommendations coming out of that [crash]," said Scott Kubly, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, during a committee meeting on the issue Wednesday. "Not only are you talking to passengers but you're observing the roadway, narrating the specific script -- or an impromptu script -- while trying to be entertaining."

"We just felt that that level of distraction merited having a narrator," Kubly added.

Tourism leaders and business owners spoke out against the proposed changes, saying the data is unproven, and that the added costs could cripple business.

"It puts a burden on these tour operators. It's unnecessarily broad. We think it has not had any legitimate input from stakeholders," said Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle, which represents tourism interests in the city. "It's reactionary. And there's really no safety data that says a narrated tour would cause accidents."

"It's much different than talking on a cell phone, because you're acutely aware of where you are and where you're taking them and all the landmarks you're pointing out," added Cameron Stewart, division manager for Pacific Alaska Tours.

"When you drill into the data, just talking with a passenger is more distracting than driving alone," countered Kubly.

The proposal is currently in committee with the city council. There is no time frame on a vote.

"We just love entertaining out of town guests and sharing with our visitors what we love about our city," added Rogers, who said his company has never had a major accident in its 22 year history. "We're a very safe operation and it's going to have a lot of unintended consequences."

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