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Skyride Ticket Hawkers Banned Again From Empire State Building Sidewalks

By Jill Colvin | January 25, 2012 1:54pm
Some ticket-vendors said their bosses  told them to steer clear of police.
Some ticket-vendors said their bosses told them to steer clear of police.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MIDTOWN — Police are again cracking down on the sale of NY Skyride tickets outside the Empire State Building after a judge denied a request to let the ticket-hawking continue while the case is appealed.

Operators of NY Skyride, a flight simulator ride inside the landmark building, have been locked in a bitter dispute with the building’s owners and the city over whether its employees should be allowed to sell tickets on Midtown streets.

The hawkers had become a major nuisance for neighbors and office workers, who said the vendors blocked pedestrian traffic, swarmed unsuspecting groups of tourists and drove locals nuts with their constant "Going Up?" pitch.

After years of permitting the sales, city officials decided last spring that the hawkers were breaking a law against selling without a vending license. This prompted an NYPD crackdown that led to more than a dozen summonses and half a dozen arrests — and a lawsuit from Skyride’s operators.

Now, after back-and-forth legal maneuvers and months of hawkers conducting business as usual, police are once again treating the sales as a no-no. The appeal on the case is expected to be heard Tuesday by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court.

Police sources in the Midtown South Precinct said officers began enforcement just before Christmas and have arrested at least two employees for illegal sales in recent weeks.

In response, the former ticket-hawkers have switched tactics. Instead of selling tickets to customers on the spot using mobile credit card machines, the vendors — dressed in signature blue shirts and orange windbreakers — now line the sidewalks to hand out flyers and direct customers to purchase tickets inside.

“They’re out there right now, but they’re passing out brochures,” said a high-ranking officer in the precinct. “We’re not seeing that they’re actually engaging in sales.”

The officer said the new rules are being interpreted very narrowly by the NYPD for now. This means police are not actively targeting double-decker tour bus employees, who sell their tickets on the street using hand-held machines and had worried they would also be banned.

Ticket-sellers say they still feel the crackdown is unfair.

"It’s sad. We’ve been doing this a long time and we’re not hurting anybody," said one vendor, who said he was one of several employees arrested just after Christmas. He spoke on the condition of anonymity since workers have said they have been threatened with dismissal for speaking to the press.

He understands the sales can be bothersome. But he said ticket-hawkers provide a crucial concierge service for New York, providing directions to lost tourists and helping them plan where to eat and what to see — even in sleet, snow and rain.

“We’re like a standing human information desk. We’re here to help you,” he said, adding that vendors are often the first people at the scene any time there’s an accident, fight or crime in the neighborhood.

But Ken Bicknell, 62, who has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years and has complained repeatedly to police about the vendors, said they continue to be a problem, especially now that parts of the sidewalk around the Empire State Building are blocked for construction.

“It’s extremely stressful, all these people coming at you and bumping into you,” he said.

NY Skyride’s lawyer, Randy Mastro, did not immediately return a call for comment on the judge's decision to permit enforcement in the run-up to Tuesday's hearing. Mastro, a former deputy mayor, has previously slammed the city's efforts as "mind-boggling," "blatantly illegal" and "unconstitutional."

A spokeswoman for the city's Law Department said the Appellate Division, First Department court, is set to hear the case on Tuesday. Once a decision is issued, the losing side may appeal to the state Court of Appeals, New York's highest court.

A spokesman for Twin America, which owns both CitySightsNY and Gray Line New York, did not respond to calls for comment on whether they are planning to participate in the suit.