- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2004

District residents responded last night to a proposal to alleviate one of the worst side effects of tourist seasons — roaming tour buses that clog the streets, pollute the air and pose a safety risk to pedestrians.

Because of a lack of parking and to avoid a $500 idling fine instituted by the District last year, bus drivers often orbit the city during the peak tourist season of March to June while waiting to drop off or pick up passengers.

About 1,000 tour buses stream into the city each day during the peak season.

Pedestrian safety became a heightened concern last summer when a 7-year-old boy and an elderly woman were killed in separate incidents by buses downtown.

The lack of parking for buses is “something that the city hasn’t done anything about for a long time,” said Peter J. Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association.

In October, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a report by the Volpe Center aimed at solving the District’s tour bus problem. The city’s transportation office held a public hearing last night on the report.

About 40 people attended last night’s hearing. Rick Rybeck, the District’s transportation deputy administrator, presented the report and took input from the community and from representatives from the tour bus and tourism industries.

Ted Nappen of the American Bus Association called the report an “important first step” toward improving bus service in the capital.

No changes as a result of the report or public input will take place before summer.

The 100-page report recommends a study of traffic patterns that could cost up to $450,000. It also recommends three major means of getting roaming buses off the streets.

One recommendation calls for several parking facilities within a 10-minute drive of the downtown area. One of the biggest lots is at New Jersey Avenue and I Street SE, which would yield 300 to 400 spaces for buses.

However, Mr. Rybeck said one parking facility is not the answer.

“What we’ll need is an array of parking facilities and locations, in order to meet the needs of wide-ranging tour bus activity in the District.

“Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll go there,” he continued. “We have to find a mechanism to make sure these are facilities that are used.”

The city also is looking into reviving a license fee that would charge buses to enter the city per season or per day.

The city had licensing fees of $150 a year or $10 a day, but the tour bus industry sued and officials suspended collecting the fees pending the outcome of the suit.

Another major issue is providing more curbside loading zones for buses, especially in front of such places as the Holocaust Museum. Because groups must get tickets in the morning, buses pile up there and clog traffic. However, that solution would result in fewer spaces for other motorists.

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