Philly Bans Unlicensed Tour Guides from Tour-Guiding

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Note the irony of banning people from speaking about the American founding without prior government approval.

As usual, the freedom fighters at the Institute for Justice are on the case.

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16 Responses to “Philly Bans Unlicensed Tour Guides from Tour-Guiding”

  1. #1 |  freedomfan | 

    I think it’s a ridiculous policy to have licensing for tour guides. I suspect this is just an attempt to create an economic barrier to entry to benefit the larger tour operators, hiding under the fig leaf of protecting tourists from “bad information”. This is similar to the tests and licenses for taxis (which are an even bigger scam in some cities), barbers, etc.

    This seems like more good fodder for one of John Stossel’s “Give Me A Break” segments. Even if the city mandates training, there is nothing to stop a tour operator from making up salacious stories about Ben Franklin and others. Meanwhile, the higher costs this will create ensure that fewer people on the margin will go on the tours and learn the city’s history at all.

    Unfortunately, the city may try to slime past IJ’s first amendment objection by claiming the regulation isn’t protectionist and that they aren’t regulating the speech, just the charging for it or a similar rationale that somehow when money is involved, the government can regulate. I sure hope IJ prevails, as per the casket makers in TN. This sort of case makes me wistful for the Lochner-era court…

  2. #2 |  Marty | 

    st. louis is trying to shut down the tour guides on the segways by charging $1500.00 permit fees- they’re exempting the St. Louis museums from having to pay this fee- just the private companies are getting shafted.

    the city aldermen have issues with the segways- ‘they’re dangerous’ ‘we can’t have motorized carts on the sidewalks’ etc. this is just the latest attempt to eliminate something they don’t get.

  3. #3 |  jwh | 

    The article states what the fine will be ($300), but doesn’t say what the cost of the test/license is. If the license cost is low, say, on the order of tens of dollars, I find it hard to see how they could win this case……..I wouldn’t have much sympathy for stupid tour guides that can’t pass a test in the material their advocating to educate the public…..kinda like the sympathies I have for a non-licensed driver who gets into an accident (yea, I know….not quite a fair analogy…..people thinking Ben Franklin had 200 illegitimate children isn’t putting other people in mortal danger….)

    If the cost is exorbitant, like the case appears to be in St Louis, that changes the discussion a bit, in my opinion.

  4. #4 |  Vlad Drac | 

    So as long as jwh isn’t charged “too much”, he has no problem with being told he must ask permission to exercise his rights. Got it.

    If someone causes damage to me or my property while operating their automobile, the existence or absence of a state-issued license on their part is completely irrelevant.

  5. #5 |  KBCraig | 

    I once took a “Jack the Ripper” walking tour of London with a very knowledgeable guide. He had spent decades studying the subject, although he had no degrees or certifications to point to. He had discovered data and reached conclusions that only became known to the mainstream a decade later.

    Some years after the tour, I learned he had quit giving them because of burdensome regulations like those proposed in Philadelphia.

    Oh, and FYI, Whitechapel was just as nasty, seedy, and dangerous at dusk in 1989 as it had been 101 years earlier.

  6. #6 |  CL Jahn | 

    If we were discussing regulating accountants instead of tour guides, no one would blink. That’s because it is NOT unreasonable to regulate a business.

    With an accountant, it is expected that he can do the math.

    With a tour guide, it should be expected that they know the actual history, if they are selling it to you.

    This isn’t a free speech issue.

  7. #7 |  Linda Morgan | 

    CL Jahn: This isn’t a free speech issue.

    Yes it is, and it’s about violating freedom of assembly as well.

    If some professional organization of tour guides wishes to offer certification for guides who want to join up, that’s one thing. Those who pay the fee and pass whatever sort of test can proudly display their Official History Here placards and you, as the discriminating tourist, may elect to patronize them and only them or go alternatively for the ones advertising the straight dope straight from Ben Franklin’s mistresses’ ghosts.

    The government — local, state, federal — should keep out of it and let buyers and sellers sort things out for themselves. Same for accountants.

  8. #8 |  Lior | 

    @CL Jahn:

    If we were discussing regulating accountants instead of tour guides, no one would blink. That’s because it is NOT unreasonable to regulate a business.

    To the best of my knowledge, obtaining bad advice from a tour guide generally does not expose you to various forms of criminal and civil liability. In other words, you do want to make sure the accountant knows the government’s version of the tax rules, for example. Otherwise you might be guilty of tax evasion. On the other hand, I can’t understand why it should matter whether the tour guide gives the government’s version of history, or his own crackpot theory.

    As an aside, I must admit I am opposed to the licensing of accountants, lawyers, doctors and the like. It is usually a bad idea to hire a doctor or a lawyer who does not possess a peer-controlled certification (they may have no idea what they’re doing), but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we must force everyone to go this way. Requiring those giving advice to carry professional liability insurance makes more sense than requiring them to be licensed.

  9. #9 |  Adolphus | 

    I have worked in museums and local history for 20 years. This type of regulation has been discussed in many different locations for years. I can sympathize. Some of the nonsense spewed by some of these tour guides has angered me over the years. I have worked with politicians and heritage professionals in both Baltimore and DC (as well as smaller towns) n this issue and the bottom line for us/them is that you cannot regulate speech. Even Colonial Williamsburg has to tolerate outside tour guides, because Duke of Gloucester Street is a public thoroughfare. I wrote a previous post on this which was huge. Let me condense to 2 points.

    1. Philadelphia takes its heritage tourism VERY SERIOUSLY. I have no doubt that this started, or at least gets a good deal of its impetus, from local politicians and heritage professionals who look upon every wrong fact dispensed in these tours as a personal and municipal insult. Again, I sympathize. But I also have no doubt that most of the power behind this law is large local tour operators. That fact that they are exempt as long as they provide an “equivalent” experience is crap. The worst offenders in my experience are in fact the larger operators of trolleys, ducks, boats, buses etc. who already have training programs, but give bad tours anyway. They hire low paid, poorly trained people and turn them loose on unsuspecting tourists. The small timer usually loves history and their city. WHat is to qualify as an “equivalent” program? Who will monitor? Will curriculum be judged? Interpretation? Facts? Will it be the Civil War or the War Between the States? Was it caused by slavery or states rights? Did Ben Franklin go to Paris as a public servant on a diplomatic mission, or did he go to cat around, leaving his wife alone with five children to fend off the rioting mobs? There are no apolitical interpretations of history.

    2. Exams for tour guides are useless five minutes after they are completed. Anyone can memorize facts for a test. Fewer can remember them a week later. I’ve trained hundreds of docents and demonstrators and without monitoring and support and eternal vigilance are necessary to keep even the best on track and any professional damn well knows it.

    This is a tax and control mechanism pure and simple. If they wanted to control quality, they should think about “stamps of approval” or some such. But even then, who decides who’s interpretation of history is certified? Again, I have a bit of sympathy for its stated purpose. But in order to get it, you will have to change the constitution. The constitution is pretty clear on speech. A little muddier on accounting.

  10. #10 |  freedomfan | 

    Government regulation of businesses is generally a bad idea. There may be exceptions that don’t spring to my mind, but the usual impact is restriction of supply due to barriers to entry and poorer service as suppliers know it is that much more difficult for someone to decide “I could do a better job than this” and hang out his own shingle.

    Of course, people who favor these regulations promote the silly view that there is no control over quality without government regulations. That ignores the fact that the market itself promotes quality (assuming the consumers are interested in it) and, more directly, private certification rating is more than capable, as has been mentioned.

    On top of all of which, it just strikes me as ludicrous to presume that the government is better at discerning or guaranteeing quality than free people acting individually or in concert. Is that because the government is such an efficient provider of high-quality goods and services? It would be hilarious except that so many people who should know better believe it without thinking about it.

  11. #11 |  supercat | 

    If we were discussing regulating accountants instead of tour guides, no one would blink. That’s because it is NOT unreasonable to regulate a business.

    If one hires a licensed accountant to handle one’s affairs, one gains a certain degree of immunity from penalties for actions resulting from the accountant’s misfeasance or malfeasance, especially when such misfeasance or malfeasance is sufficient to revoke the license.

    Were it not for the licensing requirements, someone might conspire to have one’s “accountant” cook the books and then blame any problems on him. The licenses for accountants are worth enough that few accountants are going to want to lose their license for a client.

  12. #12 |  Matt Moore | 

    If we were discussing regulating accountants instead of tour guides, no one would blink.

    I’d blink, and I suspect this site’s proprietor would blink, also. Hell, there are lots of people here opposed to mandatory licensing of dentists and doctors.

    Licensing requirements are a barrier to entry erected by the practitioners of a profession to keep down competition. They’re not about protecting consumers at all.

  13. #13 |  keith | 

    I live in Philadelphia. Our fine city has been in the throes of what is referred to locallay as “pay to play” politics for, oh, I dunno, 130 years. Since the old turn of the 20th century ward-boss machines at least. Here’s my entirely unscientific read on the situation: it’s the obnoxious “Ride the Ducks” outfit behind this. The owner of this company is connected in some not-by-the-light-of-day way to our former mayor, the Hon. John Street (“FBI Seizes Street’s Blackberries” remains my favorite headline from his administration). All the “Ride the Ducks” ducks have the same signage and livery. However, they’re organized into 7 distinct holding companies (“Penn Ducks”, “Super Ducks”, “Philly Ducks” etc), so that each holding company can register for and maintain a single-vehicle loading zone along the block of 6th street between Race and Market, next to the Constitution Center, consuming the entire block. This specifically keeps unconnected tour operators from setting up loading zones in the heavily foot-trafficed areas of Old City. $300 per company or per guide is nothing to this organization. Good luck to the smaller operators. At least the city has mostly moved beyond mid-century physical intimidation in lieu of negotiation.

  14. #14 |  James B. | 

    Kramer: Of course, uh, this is Central Park. Uh, this was designed in 1850 by Joe Pepitone. Um, built during the Civil War so the northern armies could practice fighting on…on grass.

  15. #15 |  Jason B | 

    This is SO F*ed up! We are going overboard with government attempting to intrude into our lives.

  16. #16 |  Jean | 

    It can be understood that government wants to have certain control on the quality of tour guides. Yet, with a license, it only grants that the guide has passed the exam and is registered at some government department. The real knowledge of a tour guide is hard to measure unless in the actual tour guiding. I quite agree with freedomfan’s “the market itself promotes quality”. Like, the buyers gives the rating., comments of a client might value more to that of the editor., travellers give feedback for tour guides.