Tour guide licenses restrict both free speech and misinformation

Photo courtesy of
‘circling segways’
courtesy of ‘ekelly80’

J. Freedom du Lac has an interesting article in today’s Post about DC’s tour guide licensing restrictions and the tour company operators who are contesting them on First Amendment grounds. I find myself torn on the issue- as a person who writes things for publication on the Internet, I’m a cranky First Amendment zealot. But as a person who writes things about DC for publication on the Internet, I find misinformation propagated by tour guides to be particularly maddening.

Despite leaning toward the side of the tour operators due to aforementioned zealotry, there was one quote in the article that really didn’t do much to endear the tour guides to me:

On a recent afternoon, Edwards was at the Segs in the City kiosk next to the Old Post Office Pavilion – “the second-tallest building in Washington,” she says in a lilting Australian accent.

Why did this annoy me? The Old Post Office Pavilion is NOT “the second-tallest building in Washington.” At 329 feet tall, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the second-tallest. The Old Post Office Pavilion is 315 feet tall, making it third.

Tiffany Baxendell Bridge is an Internet enthusiast and an incurable smartass. When not heckling the neighborhood political scene on Twitter, she can be found goofing off with her ukulele, Bollywood dancing, or obsessing about cult TV. She is That Woman With the Baby In the Bar.

Tiffany lives in Brookland with her husband Tom, son Charlie, and two high-maintenance cats. Read why Tiffany loves DC.

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11 thoughts on “Tour guide licenses restrict both free speech and misinformation

  1. Tour guides are not being barred from saying anything they damn well want. They’re just being required to show a basic knowledge of the District as a consequence of being licensed. Does the law say they must repeat whatever they learned to pass the test? I doubt it.

    You know who else has to pass a knowledge test to do their jobs? Lawyers. Does the law prohibit them from saying whatever they want in the practice of their jobs? Not really.

    Need proof? See the filing that spurred this senseless litigation.

  2. The licensing process restricts who can use words like “tour guide” and “sightseeing” while charging money for their services. Their test is administered directly by the DC government. A lawyer’s test is administered by the bar association in whatever their local jurisdiction is, and the requirement is simply that they must pass that bar examination. So a lawyer’s licensing is much more tied to their professional association (which, while in cooperation with the local courts, is not directly an arm of the government) than a tour guide’s license is.

    I see your point, but it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

  3. Trying to prove your knowledge of DC (and therefore lack of need to take a test) and then getting that fact wrong? I think the Seg in the City owner proves exactly why people should take these tests.

  4. One could also argue, Kate, that the the test clearly is not that effective at ensuring that DC tour guides have accurate knowledge of DC. But your point is also quite reasonable.

  5. The people mentioned in this article REALLY shouldn’t be tour guides. From the article: “Dred Scott, the case in which the court said slaves could never be U.S. citizens, ‘was on the books for a long time before it was changed, too.'” First, it was on the books for ~10 years (decided in 1857; 14th Ammendment cancelled it in 1868). Also, the Dred Scott descision has never been overturned. But I’m sure they felt like they were right.

    No wonder they don’t try to get the license; I doubt they could pass the test to begin with.

  6. I thought the woman who made the statement hadn’t taken the test? Her incorrect “see, I know my facts” example does not help her cause.

    I agree that the test might mean little – who hasn’t crammed for exam and then promptly forgotten the information? But it does seem that there needs to be some sort of oversight. Maybe there needs to be follow up on the tests: secret shopper type tour takers.

  7. The Knowledge? How would knowing London by heart help taxi drivers in DC?

    But if we’re stealing ideas from London I’d love a physical standard for the taxicabs themselves. It doesn’t have to be the TX4, but that’d be a start.

  8. I’d like to see campus tour guides getting these licenses. I took my cousin on a Georgetown tour and the guide told the group that the new Georgetown WMATA station was going to open “any day now” at Wisconsin & M. Erm…

  9. For a professional tourist guide in Europe such as myself, it is interesting to watch the current debate on whether or not tourist guides should be licensed or not.

    In my mind professional tourist guides must be educated, trained and licensed before they can call themselves a tourist guide.

    Tour managers need no professional education, training nor a license. The term “tour guide”, commonly used in the United States, does not exist in Europe.

    By definition a professional tourist guide must pass a test authorized by a local authority and in some countries they also need to be licensed.

    Tour managers need no professional qualification, nor a license.

    Many people incorrectly believe that the job of a tourist guide and tour manager is the same because both “guide”. But it is fundamentally different in many ways as described in European standards (CEN) and adopted by the European Tourist Guide Association and the World Federation of Tourist Guide Association – representing more than 40.000 professional tourist guides worldwide including members of member associations in the United States.

    Consumers need to be educated about the difference between a tourist guide and tour leader before they can make a conscientious choice when buying a tour.

    Personally, I would choose a tour with a professional tourist guide rather than a tour manager for the same reason I like a car mechanic to work on my car rather than a house painter.