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DUCK You! Operators, Businesses, Residents Spar Over Tourism

Tuesday morning's City Transportation Council on permit regulations was no duck soup. At the Circus, tour operators proposing amphibious "Duck" rides based on the Toulouse St. Wharf verbally sparred with residential and business opponents. The usual issues including proposed routes, traffic impacts, and noise pollution evoked the usual impassioned debate. Additionally, the Duck Boat's unique nature allowed for a few extra shots from the blind; the vehicles were characterized as both amusement park rides on one side, and death traps on the other.


Popular tourist attractions in other cities around the country, ‘DUCK’ vehicles are based on the Higgins boats originally made in New Orleans during World War II. Utilizing the boat's land-and-sea capability, Ride The Duck and Greyline Tours hope to bring tourist out of the Quarter to the waters of Lake Pontchatrain for a more in depth exposure to New Orleans.


The big question still floating around was if they will be able to secure the permits needed to operate, especially within the Vieux Carre.


For-hire transportation services are required to secure a CPNC (Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience) and comply with all ordinances therein.  Consideration for permitting include the effect on existing mass transportation, effects on traffic congestion, effect on pedestrians and other vehicles.  Most certainly relevant to the opposition is the ‘amusement-park appearance’ of the Duck in relation to the historic quality of the Quarter.


The ‘Duck’ defenders, mostly consisting of owners of the Ride the Duck Company and the CEO of New Orleans Steamboat Company/ Grey Line Tours, hailed the introduction of the duck tours to NOLA attractions as expanding the scope of interest beyond downtown.


“This is going to be a family experience to be enjoyed by all ages. These Ducks are also historic WWII vehicles; some even constructed here in New Orleans and were also used after Katrina in the recovery efforts. We can bring awareness to the lakefront, Lake Pontchatrain that is underutilized by locals and visitors” said Greg Hoffman, Vice President of New Orleans Steamboat Company/ Grey Line Tours.


Other representatives championed the Duck initiative, with the Director of Operations of Grey Line, JEDCO and the President of the French Quarter Business Association praising the Duck Tour’s addition to tourism as an attraction.


Hoffman continued with assurances that the ducks's route through the Quarter would be limited, with the outgoing route taking the Duck up Iberville to N. Peters then onto Canal.  The Duck would then take Canal up to City Park to enter I-10 and exit either West End or Bonnabel to the ‘splash down destination’ at the Bonnabel Boat Launch. The Duck would then follow the same route back, except using Decatur up to St. Peter. That proposed route that has many residents and business owners in the area miffed.


French Quarter resident Thomas McQuinn said that the Council “shouldn’t be fooled by the map, they will be using more FQ streets." Gail Cabot fears “damage to the French Quarter streets with the use of large vehicles”. The Vieux Carre dweller went on to contend that it’s not the tours that she opposes, but the current proposed route.  This sentiment was echoed by fellow resident Bob Simms, who stated; “I support the tours, but not the operation in the French Quarter, amusement rides have no place in the Quarter”.


Several alternate provisions of shifting the route were suggested, and while Ride the Duck and Grey Line had stated they would be open to compromise and regulation, they would not waiver on a route shift. “We cannot at this time accept being moved out of the French Quarter as it would not be economically feasible,” said Hoffman.  


Opponents also brought up Duck Boat accidents that resulted in deaths. Council member Gisleson-Palmer seemed especially concerned upon learning that two individuals on the Ride The Duck Tour drowned when the boat was run over by a barge in the Delaware River in Philadelphia in 2010.  When questioned on his knowledge of these deaths and the safety of the Duck boat, the President of Ride The Duck Tours deferred responsibility to the U.S. Coast Guard, which handles certifications. The families of the victims were paid $15 million in a settlement to the families following the crash.


The Council's transportation committee ended the session on the fence, approving the additional attraction to spur interest in the lakefront, yet disapproving of its possible negative impact on the French Quarter. Palmer summed it up in saying that the Quarter is the city’s greatest tourism treasure and would not want to jeopardize the “goose from which we get our golden eggs”.

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