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Aggressive Vendors Still Plague Battery With Water Taxi Tickets, Police Say

By Irene Plagianos | October 13, 2016 3:35pm
 Liberty Island is open later in the evenings during the summer of 2012.
Liberty Island is open later in the evenings during the summer of 2012.
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Statue Cruises

FINANCIAL DISTRICT —  A longtime network of aggressive ticket sellers who swarm and often trick tourists near The Battery have a new source for their boat tour peddling, according to Manhattan's 1st Precinct.

Ferry company New York Water Taxi is now fueling the crush of vendors nearly five months after citywide ferry operator Hornblower, Inc., stopped selling its tickets through sometimes violent street hawkers — following a DNAinfo New York story about the company's practice, the precinct's commanding officer Deputy Inspector Mark Iocco said.

"Unfortunately the problem with aggressive street sellers, many of whom have violent criminal records, remains the same at The Battery. They are just selling different boat tour tickets — now it's New York Water Taxi, " Iocco said. 

Police, who have long been trying to crack down on the street sellers, have said that more than 60 vendors are regularly hovering near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, pushing boat tours that sail around the Statue of Liberty, but don't actually land at the monument.

Only one ferry operator, Statue Cruises, which has its dock at The Battery, can take passengers to Liberty and Ellis islands — those tickets are either purchased online or inside Castle Clinton.

The street sellers, hired by resale companies that now buy tickets from Water Taxi, sometimes confuse tourists, telling them lies such as the Statue of Liberty is closed for construction, to get them to buy the Water Taxi cruises that sail around Liberty Island, police said.

Thirty-one vendors have been arrested at or near The Battery since June, sometimes for fraudulent accosting, meaning they lie to tourists to persuade them to purchase their boat tours, according to the 1st Precinct. Other times, the arrests have been for illegally vending, meaning the vendors don't have the appropriate licenses to sell either inside The Battery or on city streets.

All the arrested vendors were selling Water Taxi tickets, Iocco said.

As of August, new city law has required street vendors to have licenses from the Department of Consumer Affairs to peddle boat and bus tours.

One 16-year-old — identified as a regular Battery ticket vendor, according to Iocco and court records — was also arrested for robbing a woman of her purse in August near the Staten Island Ferry.

Most recently, on Oct. 2, a 49-year-old unlicensed vendor was arrested for illegally selling tickets near The Staten Island Ferry terminal, and was caught carrying more than 1,000 boat tour tickets — along with $10,000 in cash and a bit of marijuana, court records show. More than 800 of those tickets were for Water Taxi, police sources said.

In a statement to DNAinfo, New York Water Taxi said that it is committed to a code of conduct for the ticket resellers it uses, and when the company identifies issues with the sellers, it fines resale companies or bans specific sellers.

"NYWT is committed to a professional code of conduct for third-party ticket sellers who purchase our tickets for resale," the statement said. "NYWT also supported the city's newly-enacted licensing system for ticket-sellers in an effort to further improve the customer experience and industry standards."

"On the occasions when our own staff verifies noncompliance with expectations or a code of conduct we take appropriate measures, including but not limited to significant fines and banning problematic individuals from reselling NYWT tickets," the statement said.  "Cooperation of the NYPD and other parties in this regard is vital. If the NYPD or any other parties have information to share about noncompliant individuals selling NYWT tickets, we have been and remain eager to collaborate to weed out any bad actors."

Iocco, however, said if Water Taxi has measures in place "we don't see Water Taxi monitoring these sellers, we see the same violations, the same old guys down there everyday."

Of major concern to Iocco is the history of violence among the vendors. Police beefed up their investigation into the Battery Park ticket sellers in the wake of several violent incidents, including a tourist whose skull was fractured after rebuffing an illegal vendor in February 2016 and infighting between the sellers.

Iocco said he warned Water Taxi officials in August that he was now seeing a proliferation of their tickets being sold by the aggressive hawkers, and has "strongly urged" them not to use the resale companies that hire them.

Water Taxi has a kiosk that sells its boat tours near The Battery, staffed by its own employees, and Iocco said that is the only way to ensure their tickets are being appropriately sold.

"Many of these street sellers have a long history of violent behavior, some we have identified as sex offenders — the only way to stop this problem of aggressive sellers is for ferry companies not to use them," he said. "I hope that is what Water Taxi will do."