Sun, May

Chop-Top Buses! Death Traps for Tourists?

DEEGAN ON LA-If a tourist-filled “chop-top” open-air tour bus were to be crunched like an accordion if hit from behind or if it recklessly crashed into something ahead, it could become a death trap. The “crunch” could be caused by the vehicle’s structural integrity being compromised once the roof has been cut off. 

In our “post-truth” world, where the appeal to emotion outweigh the facts, the scramble for inside info about celebrities seems to outweigh reality as tourists rush to board these often unregulated, open-air vans to fulfill their dreams of rubbing shoulders with fame. 

It’s a wonder these possibly unsafe vehicles are allowed to operate. 

There are lots of chop-top buses cruising through the Hollywood hills, filled with tourists who may not realize the risk they are taking when they respond to celebrity tour barkers promising “behind the scenes” insight into Hollywood royalty supposedly living on their routes. 

A scary public safety point about chop-tops was made toward the end of a two-hour “Tour Bus Town Hall” that was held in Hollywood a few nights ago with a panel of fifteen officials, moderated by Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council President Anastasia Mann. Present were community members, state and local political figures, and law enforcement officials who gathered to air many issues concerning the tour buses that use the Hollywood Hills by-ways to entertain tourists with fantasies about stars who often don’t even live there. This group searched for solutions to problems caused by the proliferation of chop-top tour buses -- multiple traffic violations, illegal parking, misinformation about celebrity homes, sneaking onto side streets, endangering the lives of tourists, and the many buses and driver/guides who operate unsafe vehicles that may not even be registered or insured. 

Councilmember David Ryu (CD4), representing the Hollywood Hills, kicked off the forum, saying, “We are working with our state representatives to identify solutions.” Some of those state officials were represented on the panel, including the California Highway Patrol, the Consumer Protection and Enforcement Division of the California Public Utilities Commission, and the office of State Assembly Member Adrin Nazarian (46th District.) Local representation included CD4 David Ryu and his deputies, Catherine Landers and Nicholas Greif, officers from the LAPD (including the Hollywood Commanding Officer,) the presidents of various neighborhood councils and homeowner associations, and tour operators. 

Several dozen members of the hillside community spoke forcefully about the intrusion of these buses into their neighborhoods. Numerous practical ideas were presented, although it was stressed that the state Public Utilities Commission has the final word on licensing tour buses; local government and police need to work through the PUC and state legislature to effect change.

Regulating public safety has to take priority over many of the other complaints voiced by the community. The possible lack of structural integrity of these passenger vans with their tops chopped off in order to give an open-air experience and a better view to the riders, poses potential dangers that must be the first priority for authorities. 

Some relevant solutions were offered, including one successfully used by a homeowners association that was able to get the Department of Transportation to use “weight” for controlling access to their neighborhood streets. Sheila Irani, President of Lake Hollywood Estates Homeowners Association (adjacent to the Hollywood Sign) explained, “The HOA adopted weight control signs and worked with LADOT to post them at all street entrances leading to the Vista. After that, we worked with CD4 and LAPD to create a task force that ticketed overweight vehicles in July 2014 and since then the tour vans coming to our area were reduced from 40 a day to one or two.” 

Another suggestion that received positive response from the CHP officers was to post “designated routes” for the tour buses to keep them off side streets. “Our office is looking into these suggestions (designated routes and weight limits),” responded Ryu. 

Tourism has a bottom line: $2.5 billion in state and local taxes were driven by tourism employment in 2015, according to Ernest Wooden Jr, President of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, the official tourism marketing organization for the City of Los Angeles. Wooden adds, “LA Tourism's focus is on ensuring that visitors to our city have a memorable and authentic Los Angeles experience.” 

Given the problems associated with top-chop tour buses, it’s time to add “safe” to the list of what LA is promising our tourists because, in the end, death has no replacement value price tag.


(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.