'Somebody's Got to Say Enough': The Moving Target of Tour Ticket Sellers

Street ticket sellers remain a persistent presence around The Battery and Staten Island Ferry terminal. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Sep. 03, 2019

The message to tour boat operators last month was a stern one. Stop selling your tickets through street vendors, or else. “A single violation” means expulsion from the pier, wrote Donald Liloia, an executive of New York Waterway, which manages several docks for the city through its NYCDocks program.

What resulted was the end of docking privileges for Queen of Hearts at Pier 36, near Montgomery Street, and a hoped-for step towards relief from the usual onslaught of ticket vendors near The Battery, with their history of deceptive and aggressive tactics.

“We’ve been dealing with the problem for several years,” Liolia said in a telephone interview. “We finally said, somebody’s got to say enough.”

Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance, said the city should look at using its leverage over other piers, beyond those in the DockNYC program. “Either ban third-party sellers or regulate them in a different fashion,” she said in a telephone interview.

“The city has leverage over many industries, regardless of what it is,” Lappin said, “and if there are bad actors taking advantage of city parks while operating out of city property there should be repercussions.” 


A City Hall spokeswoman responded to questions about future actions by the city with the following statement: “DCWP [the Department of Consumer and Worker Protections, formerly the Department of Consumer Affairs] has put forth rules to fine ticket sellers that scam customers. DCWP and EDC [the Economic Development Corp.] are working with the Parks Department and the NYPD to ensure safety, and will work with elected officials to explore other options.


So far, steps to solve the problem have been incremental, from the city’s licensing of vendors and the 1st Precincts educational and enforcement operations to the posting of large signs that warn visitors not to be hoodwinked into believing their street tickets will get them onto Liberty Island. Many of the sellers’ vests now identify them as Runner rather than as Official Ticket Agent.

Still, tour boat operators continue to use the ubiquitous vendors, some of whom stop traffic as they dash across the street with customers, accost passengers in cars that arrive at the ferry terminal, exaggerate the inconvenience of taking the free Staten Island Ferry or the tour boat to Liberty Island, or fail to disclose to customers that the boat they're bound for is in New Jersey. 

Last week, following the expulsion of the Queen of Hearts from Pier 36, the Trib investigated the ticket selling landscape near The Battery. On Aug. 25 and 27 we found that tickets were being sold for tours leaving from the ferry terminal in Battery Park City. A group of Spanish-speaking tourists, for example, was led by a runner to a plaza on State Street where a seller dispensed a long roll of ticket vouchers. The group then was led to the free Downtown Connection shuttle bus at 1 State Street, which dropped them off on Vesey Street, near the ferry terminal. There they got on the 4:20 p.m. harbor cruise aboard the Great Point, a Hornblower boat.

Hornblower Yachts is affiliated with Statue Cruises, a company that has complained bitterly about street vendors. As the sole company officially sanctioned to take visitors onto Liberty Island, Statue Cruises has charged that the sellers hurt their business by misrepresenting their tours. “We’ve spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on security contractors, secret shoppers, guest service people. It’s been quite the siege,” Michael Burke, Hornblower’s chief operating officer, told a Community Board 1 Committee in February 2018. 

In response to the Trib’s questions about the street sale of Hornblower tickets for tours out of Battery Park City, the company’s spokesman, George Lence, said in an email statement: “Hornblower does not make individual harbor cruise tickets available for sale via rogue agents. Additionally, we contract with secret shoppers to monitor and help prevent tickets from making their way into the hands of illegal vendors. Hornblower only has select relationships with reputable tourism partners.”

Following our inquiry, the reporter returned to the area on Aug. 31 and found that ticket sellers no longer offered tours out of the Battery Park City ferry terminal.

But plenty of vendors this past weekend were on hand to sell tickets to at least two other boats. One was the Queen of Hearts, which docks in New Jersey, as it has in the past. (The city evicted Queen of Hearts from Pier 36 early last year, but was allowed back—until it was evicted yet again this month—because it was chartered to a different operator, according to Liolia.)  

Other street sellers were offering the Circle Line’s one-hour Statue of Liberty Express out of Pier 16 in the Seaport. A man standing inside the off-limits park and not wearing the usual identifying vest, was making it known to passing visitors that he was eager to help them with their tour options. Asked by this reporter if he knew where he could get the Circle Line, the runner amiably escorted him for several blocks, out of the park, through Peter Minuet Plaza and across Battery Place until he found a vendor, amid a clutch of other street sellers, who could take money and dispense a ticket voucher from a hand-held machine. The “customer” was then directed to where he could walk to the pier—about a 15- to 20-minutes trek. At the Pier 16 ticket booth, the agent exchanged the voucher for a boarding ticket. Circle Line did not respond to requests for comment.

In April 2017, a dispute between two ticket sellers resulted in a shooting that wounded a bystander as well as a seller. The incident led Councilwoman Margaret Chin at the time to call for a kiosk in The Battery for all ticket sales. Now she is reviving the proposal, according to a spokesman, along with possible legislation, yet to be worked out, that would increase penalties for companies using the sellers. 

This year, police targeted aggressive ticket sellers in 39 enforcement operations, making 19 arrests and issuing 135 summonses, according to the NYPD. No incidents of violence were reported. “There was more emphasis on enforcement at certain points during the summer, which definitely helps,” Lappin said. But she noted sellers on their best behavior are still a nuisance when there are so many of them. 

“You don’t want to get out of the subway at Bowling Green and have 200 people surrounding you,” she said. “Even if they’re handing you chocolates and daisies.”