FOR DECADES, ABOUT the only way to get around the Mall, other than by foot, was via the blue-and-white trams of the Tourmobile . At $32 a person, it was not a cheap mode of transportation, particularly if one had no interest in the interpretative audio presentation. We hope Tourmobile’s recent demise means the National Park Service will finally get serious about providing a variety of transportation options to visitors.
Tourmobile, which ceased operation at the end of October amid financial difficulties, had been allowed to operate under an exclusive contract that barred other buses, bike-sharing and pedicabs. It was an irrational arrangement that actually made it harder to get to many of the Mall’s museums and monuments, and it was rightly protested by the National Coalition to Save Our Mall and others who wanted effective and low-cost alternatives.
Those protests seem be paying off. And that is likely to result in a more hospitable Mall. Preserving the integrity of the Mall and visitor convenience are not mutually exclusive goals.
The park service, for example, is now considering Capital Bikeshare stations for the Mall. Earlier this year it rejected participating in the region’s increasingly popular bike program; “It would destroy the nature of what makes the National Mall an American institution in the first place” was the warped view expressed at the time. Thankfully, smarter thinking prevailed and the service is currently collecting public comment on the proposed location of five stations on the Mall.
The park service is also looking for a tour operator to temporarily fill the void left by the sudden departure of Tourmobile. The rush to complete a contract has prompted worries from the Save Our Mall coalition that the park service may be headed for a deal not much different from the monopoly Tourmobile enjoyed. It fired off a letter expressing its concerns to the acting inspector general of the Interior Department.
But park officials stressed they are undertaking temporary measures to deal with an situation that is almost an emergency. Imagine, as they rather convincingly told us, Cherry Blossom season without a tour system in place. Then too, there is the difficulty of visiting Arlington National Cemetery without a tour operator.
Six bidders responded to the solicitation, and it’s possible more than one contract would be awarded. Importantly, the draft contract contains language making clear this would be a nonexclusive arrangement, as the City Paper’s Lydia DePillis reported.
The contract is not to exceed three years, during which the park service will develop a permanent plan for Mall transportation. Park officials say all possibilities are on the table and the process will include the public.