Some of you may know that certain double-decker tour bus companies in NYC are hoping to replace live tour guides with automated video recordings. I'm sure you can guess what I (a tour guide) think of that. I don't do the buses but I work with a lot of people who do. One of these made a right purty speech today at a city hall rally. In case you weren't out there today, here it is:
My name’s Andy Sydor, and I’ve been a New York City tour guide for over thirteen years. I used to take tourists to the top of the Twin Towers. I have taken them to all five boroughs. And throughout my career, I’ve fought the attempts of irresponsible companies to replace live guides with tapes. I remember back in 2000, I even saw test buses trying out tape systems rolling right past us on our own buses. Some said it was inevitable, that there was nothing we could do to stop it. But we are not helpless. So we alerted city officials, and their pressure and inquiries compelled the company to not use those tape systems.
Again, after 9/11, that same company tried to use that catastrophe as an excuse to eliminate their professional guides. But we are not helpless. We used protests and professionalism to keep our jobs, and we succeeded. In 2005, the threat of tapes raised its head again, and again, things looked grim. But we are not helpless. We drafted a bill to reinforce already-existing Department of Consumer Affairs regulation to ensure that visitors to New York would have the opportunity to have a live, licensed guide give their tour. To block that bill, the companies running the double-deckers swore to never replace their guides with tapes, so we were safe again.
But never doesn’t last forever, not in this town. Now, the industry is taking advantage of a new mandate by the city to ensure that the customers use headphones to allow them to replace human beings with tapes. We tried to add language to ensure that these customers could continue to have licensed, tested guides on their tours, but those efforts were blocked by the claim that the City could not do such a thing.
But the City is not helpless. The City has the right, and the obligation, to regulate its tourism industry, and to guarantee that our visitors get to experience guaranteed quality. That’s why we guides are licensed. That’s why we guides are tested. That’s why we need to know ALL the boroughs , and ALL the neighborhoods. That’s why, even though I’ve never driven a bus, I have to know how to advise any bus driver where he can go, and what he can do on the streets of this City. These are all consequences of City legislation.
There are things that the City can’t force by law. They can’t force me to love this City as much as I do, and to show that love to our visitors. They can’t force me to obsessively study and re-study everything about this place, and to share that with the world. That’s just part of the fringe benefit of having a licensed, living guide. And that’s a benefit that can never be replaced by a machine. There is no app for that. But the City can use its powers and its laws to guarantee that visitors to the greatest City in the World can be guided by the greatest guides on the planet.