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Empire State Building Ride Ticket Hawker Arrested

By Jill Colvin | October 27, 2011 12:49pm | Updated on October 27, 2011 12:51pm
Skyride employees have stopped selling tickets on the street, the company's lawyer says.
Skyride employees have stopped selling tickets on the street, the company's lawyer says.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MIDTOWN — A man hawking tickets to an Empire State Building virtual-reality ride was arrested as police re-launched a crackdown banning ticket sales on the street.

Duane Seagers, who works as a ticket seller for Skyline, which operates the NY Skyride, was arrested Tuesday as part of a new enforcement sweep, the company’s lawyer, Randy Mastro, said.

Seagers was given a desk appearance ticket, which will be heard at the Midtown Community Court, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office said.

The arrest comes more than a month after Supreme Court Judge Donna Mills issued a ruling backing a new interpretation of the city’s vending law, which bars selling tickets on public sidewalks without a vending license. The licenses are currently impossible to get.

“We continue to find it mind-boggling that the city would be targeting a legitimate business,” said Mastro, who maintains the decades-old practice is allowed because hawkers are selling tickets, not “goods or services.”

He slammed the city's new enforcement as “blatantly illegal" and "unconstitutional,” noting that the company has already filed a notice of appeal.

Police had spent the time since the court decision waiting for an official OK from the city’s Law Department to resume ticketing and arresting the sellers, who had become a major quality-of-life concern in the neighborhood.

Many in the community say they’ve had to avoid Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th streets whenever possible to steer clear of the vendors.

Local residents, building managers and office workers had repeatedly complained of harassment by vendors, whom they accused of blocking sidewalks, accosting tourists and driving neighbors nuts with their constant ‘Going up?’ pitch.

Meanwhile, employees of the company continued to sell tickets on the street, despite the court's decision.

Some employees told DNAinfo before the judge's order was officially filed that they were concerned the company would continue to force its workers to sell tickets on the street, even at the risk of fines or arrest.

“I can’t afford to go jail,” said one hawker, who declined to give his name out of fear of reprisal from the company, which has barred employees from speaking to the press.

The city's Law Department said Skyline had no excuse for failing to comply.

"It is clear that Skyline knew of the court's decision upholding the law," said Gabriel Taussig, chief of the Administrative Law Division at the city's Law Department:

Tuesday's arrest appears to have prompted a change in policy at Skyride.

As of Wednesday morning, staff in their signature blue shirts were no longer carrying around mobile credit-card machines allowing them to sell tickets directly from the street. Instead, the employees spent Wednesday promoting the ride by walking around, shouting, handing out fliers and directing customers to purchase tickets inside — constitutionally protected free speech, Mastro said.

It was not immediately clear whether Seagers, the man who was arrested, was actually attempting to sell tickets on the street or had simply been advertising them, said Mastro, who added that the change in operations presents a serious blow to Skyline.

But residents said that while they'd love to see the vendors gone for good, they were pleased to see a steep reduction in the number of employees out on the street Wednesday.

“What really surprises me is the people are gone,” said Ken Bicknell, 62, who has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years, and had complained to police about the vendors at multiple community meetings.

Still, Bicknell said he’s worried the vendors will begin to operate like common purse sellers, who simply pack up their merchandise whenever cops walk by.

“Let’s see. We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Bicknell said.

The showdown between the city and Skyline began back in April, when police arrested six ticket agents and issued 14 summonses over the course of eight weeks under the new interpretation of the city's vending laws, prompting the company to sue.

It is still unclear how the ruling will impact sightseeing tour bus companies like CitySights NY and Grayline, whose employees also traditionally sell tickets on the street and were nowhere to be found near the Midtown landmark throughout the day Wednesday.

A spokesman for TwinAmerica, which owns both CitySights and Grayline, did not respond to a request for comment.

Shayna Jacobs contributed reporting