Last year the US DOT took a long hard and unhappy look at City Sights and Gray Line, the "two" major double-decker tour bus companies in New York which, since 2009, have actually just been one company, Twin America. And today the bus behemoth got another blow as the New York State Attorney General's office has started legal action to break up the its monopoly.
"Forming a monopoly that overcharges consumers is illegal and will not be tolerated," Attorney General Schneiderman said announcing the lawsuit. "The iconic double-decker Gray Line and City Sights buses are seen all over New York City, but few people know they are a monopoly that has led to higher prices and less competition. Visitors to New York deserve better." And it is true. Nobody seems to realize that Gray Line and City Sights, which last year were said to have nearly 90 percent of the $100 million+ hop-on-hop-off tour bus market here, are the same company. And that has been used both to the advantage of Twin America and the disadvantage of consumers and employees. Not only were prices raised soon after the companies merged, but a valuable bargaining tool for bus operators and tour guides was quickly lost.
"They used the merger to totally fuck their employees," one former tour guide with Gray Line told us. "Because in the past it was like 'oh well there's always X company'—there's always been a 2nd company—and now theere isn't. So they cut hours and wages and indirectly cut benefits, because you needed a certain amount of hours a week to qualify for benefits."
"The formation of Twin America eliminated intense head-to-head competition between Coach and City Sights and gave the parties an effective monopoly that enabled them to raise prices to consumers," Renata Hesse, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, explains (the Department of Justice co-filing the suit which is available here). The government has actually been looking into the monopoly for awhile but were stopped temporarily when Twin America belatedly applied to the federal Surface Transportation Board for approval of their merger (which was rejected).
Still, no matter what happens in this case one thing is for sure: those double decker buses which once upon a time seemed like such a charming addition to the city are not going anywhere. Not when they are making that much money!