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City cracks down on deceptive Statue of Liberty tour ticket sellers

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Private ferry tour operators who use aggressive, often deceptive, street ticket sellers will have their pier permits pulled, officials say

A ferry boat passes by the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
A ferry boat cruises by the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Aggressive ticket sellers who hawk deceptive boat rides around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are finally getting the boot from Battery Park.

Private ferry operator NY Waterway, which oversees Pier 36 in lower Manhattan, issued an ultimatum to boat operators last week: nix the ticket sellers who push faux tours by August 21, or berthing permits would be pulled.

“The situation created by the street sellers in Lower Manhattan has become intolerable for tourists, residents and workers alike,” wrote Donald Liloia, senior vice president of NY Waterway, to those who operate boat tours in the area.

Statue Cruises is the only operator permitted to take visitors to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island. Tickets go for $18.50 and can be purchased online or at a kiosk in Battery Park. But vendors claiming to sell tickets to the iconic attraction often trick tourists into purchasing rides that cruise by, but not to, those islands. The aggressive sellers have long plagued Lower Manhattan’s waterfront, despite efforts by city legislators and the NYPD to crack down on them.

“We have decided to do our part to assist the City in eliminating the problem by no longer allowing any operation that accepts tickets sold by street vendors to access any DockNYC location,” Liloia’s message to operators continued.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) oversees Pier 36 through its DockNYC program, operated by Billybey, which is an affiliate of Port Imperial that does business as NY Waterway. As of Wednesday, EDC had already directed Billbey to notify a boat operator, the Queen of Hearts, that its permit will be terminated in 30 days because of the company’s continued use of street ticket sellers.

Queen of Hearts did not return calls for comment.

“NYCEDC reserves the right to manage its public piers in a manner that promotes public safety and the goals of the DockNYC program,” said NYCEDC spokesperson Stephanie Baez. “NYCEDC has received repeated reports that third party ticket sellers have engaged in practices that increase sales by aggressively or fraudulently promoting tours to the Statue of Liberty.”

To crack down on the bad behavior, the City Council passed a 2016 law that requires ticket sellers peddling boat and bus tours registered with the Department of Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection (DCWP) and display licenses while working—a measure intended to help law enforcement go after repeated bad actors. Now, a DCWP proposed rule would also mandate ticket sellers state clearly on tickets whether their boat will actually land at Liberty and Ellis islands.

Lower Manhattan Councilmember Margaret Chin, who co-sponsored the bill requiring vendors register with the city, aims to introduce legislation that would codify that proposed rule and is exploring other steps, including potentially banning ticket sellers from selling at busy neighborhood entry points, like subway stations, and designating kiosks where tickets can be sold, according to Chin’s office.

“The chaos we’ve seen and the nightmare stories we’ve heard point to an urgent need for all stakeholders to come together to strengthen enforcement,” Chin said in a statement. “As we work on long-term legislative solutions to fill enforcement gaps, I’m happy that DockNYC and [DCWP] are also stepping up to the plate.”

Chin’s legislative efforts are welcomed by neighborhood groups who have long advocated for stricter regulations on ticket sellers.

“This problem has just grown over the years. It’s not sustainable and it’s not the look we want for millions of tourists who visit and for the people who live and work in the Downtown area,” said Jessica Lappin, the president of the Downtown Alliance, which manages the area’s Business Improvement District. “It’s beyond a nuisance, it’s a safety issue.”

In some cases, ticket sellers have turned violent, attacking tourists or getting into feuds with one another. In 2017, an argument between two competing ticket sellers near Battery Park escalated into a shooting that left two wounded; in 2016 a street seller fractured a tourist’s skull with a punch to the head after the man refused to purchase a ticket to visit the Statue of Liberty.

NY Waterway says it will permit those with “legitimate relationships with tour companies” who can “present verifiable agreements” and proof of a scheduled departure.

“I cannot stress any clearer that a single violation of this restriction will result in the complete revocation of all of your berthing permits,” Liloia warned.