No More Tourmobile Rides at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery

by ARLnow.com November 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm 4,907 37 Comments

Starting today, visitors to Arlington National Cemetery have no option other than to walk the sprawling grounds.

Those recognizable, blue-and-white Tourmobile buses — which used to provide an authorized, narrated tour of the cemetery that included stops at the Kennedy gravesites, the Tomb of the Unknowns and Arlington House — stopped running yesterday. That leaves few options for tourists hoping for a less strenuous tour of the hilly, 624-acre cemetery.

The National Park Service says they’re hoping to find a replacement for the Tourmobiles.

  • YTK

    Would be nice if the replacements would be electric vehicles.

    • John Gouldin

      As a Sentinel (badge 284) who was at the Tomb a fairly long time, I can attest we found the Tourmobiles a mixed bag. On the one hand, the hordes are not necessary in any way to honor the Unknowns. They show up long enough to watch a guard change and run for the bus. The TUS has nothing to do with guards or Sentinels. We are a walking salute and physical guardians, nothing more whatsoever. On the other hand, if they come and watch a guard change, percentages say a few will think past what they saw with their eyes. They will ponder, examine themselves, and pay respects to something closer to the true meaning of what the Tomb is. That is a blessing when it occurs. On balance, there is no reason for denied access, so…welcome tourists. Please see past us boys-in-blue to the meaning of the horrifying sacrifice of these men who were -Not- heros, just soldiers, simply doing what they were told until there was nothing more to give. Dolce et decorum est pro patri mori. I stand for you forever.

  • Smoke_Jaguar4

    I’ve always through the Tourmobiles were inappropriate for the ANC. It gave the riders a disconnected, voyeuristic feel for the cemetary. If you really want to respect the fallen, at least get off your butts and walk the path. That said, they should come up with a decent alternative for the handicapped and elderly visitors who will need assistance.

    • JB

      I’m sure there were thousands of vets that used TourMobile to visit the cemetary over the years, and I’m guessing most of them didn’t agree with your sentiments or they wouldn’t have continued servicing the cemetary for 4 decades…

    • OX4

      Yea grandma, get off your lazy cane-needing butt and start walking up that hill!

  • charlie

    thank goodness those belching disney-esque things are DONE.

  • JimPB

    I’ll miss being able to send visitors to the Tourmobile (freeing me of the burden of transporting them around the sights, yet again).

  • CarsSuck

    those things are deathtraps, and the drivers are morons. It would be nice to see some pedicabs (bicycle rickshaws) picking up the work left behind.

  • STee

    I agree – this is good news!

  • wer

    Far worst than the tourmobiles is the attire some visitors choose to wear while entering the cemetery. I understand that it can be hot when visiting during Memorial Day weekend, but a tank top and flip flops is entirely inappropriate. It certainly irked me while I was trying to visit a few relative’s graves.

    I did take the tour mobile about 15 years ago and it is pretty informative. The open air vehicle is also easier logistically than everyone constantly filing into and out of a bus.

  • charlie

    now if we can get rid of the DUCKS too..

    but seriously, when tourmobile protested the PediBikes using the Mall, that should have been the end of it.

  • MC

    I am all in favor of people walking, though I imagine some vets may have trouble doing that for long distances, so hope some kind of alternate transportation is available to people with mobility issues. Tourmobile may be dated, but at least the National Park Service made sure that the commentary was factual and accurate, which isn’t true for most tour operators.

  • Tom Lang

    Any type of wheeled vehicle (except bicycles) are allowed at the ANC. Vets can use their personal vehicles. The tourists walk only to Kennedy’s gravesite and the Tomb from the visitor’s center as it is all uphill. ANC registered vehicles, military buses, construction vehicles, flower delivery trucks, groundskeepers funeral processions and valult trucks all can be found on the roads, many not observing any posted speeds especially down the manor’s hill. You have to walk on the left and be alert for traffic as there are many blind curves, especially on the walk up to the manor house as this is the main drag from the gate to Ft. Meyer.

    • Tom

      I ride my bicycle through ANC everyday. Where did you get that info?

    • Sarah

      It is a real shame that tourists can’t tour on bicycles, like the Captial Bikeshare bikes!

      • CW

        But our vets (including relative of mine) fought so that we could have the god-given right to belch pollutants into the air! What would it say if we stooped to riding around on bicycles like a bunch of those Europeans?! /sarcasm

      • Swag

        They’re trying to prevent people from using the cemetery as their workout area (hence the “No jogging” rule).

      • I against I

        Have you seen some of the tourists? I don’t think they have been on a bicycle in 30yrs. I’m down for a Horse & Buggy

    • charlie

      well it used to be…
      that you could commute by bike or pleasure ride by bike down Pershing Drive, thru Fort Myer, into the cemetery and then across Memorial Bridge.
      Going down that big hill was pretty awesome. Coming home wasn’t.
      But due to a small number of over-zealous speed demon bikers and shirtless joggers and their selfish attitudes and subsequent disrespect of funerals, people visiting a very hollow place, the cemetery made the decision to ban bikes. Then 9/11 closed the Fort.
      You can still do it at night though… and the naughty factor add about an additional 500 calorie burn (you can’t get that at Gold’s).

  • LEB

    I escort a specialized tour of 20 to 40 folks annually through the cemetery. Many participants are elderly and could not hike up the hill to the Tomb of Unknowns.

    As for “improper clothing,” I also take a group of 6th grader 12-year-olds on an annual tour. Many thousands of middle and high school kids visit the cemetery on general tours of Washington. It’s often their first visit to any cemetery. The tour can be a highly emotional and meaningful lesson in American heroism and civic responsibility unlike anything else on their trips. Let’s be tolerant of the informal dress, and focus on the big picture.

    There must be some replacement for the Tour-mobiles to efficiently permit tourists to pay their respects and learn.

  • John Goilios

    I’m curious why this article only tells half the story. Like much of what Arlnow.com reports, it leaves out critical details such as WHY they aren’t running anymore. Sure, I can go to the Washington Post for that, but why should I when this site claims to be a legitimate news site? It’s hard to be legitimate when it only tells half the story.

    So any new pizza places opening up in the County?

    • CrystalMikey

      There are links to outside articles embedded in the ARLnow post. *shrug*

      • CW

        ARLnow for the most part is simply an aggregator when it comes to hard news. Its focus (and its value) is on the “little stuff” that WaPo would hardly give mention to (pedestrian hit by car at bad intersection, new Landrum restaurant opens, etc.)

        That said, I think the answer is that there isn’t a clear answer. The WaPo article simply said Tourmobile’s contract wasn’t renewed, implied that they ran out of money, and left it at that.

  • Theakston

    w..Why no bicycles? Segues and all motor vehicles are OK bicycles not?

    • Arlingtron

      Bicycles are allowed, eastbound only, from Ft. Myer to the Memorial Drive gate. You can’t deviate from the designated route or you get yelled at, even if you stop to take a photo, adjust your seat, etc. There is a bike rack near the Arlington House. I certainly wish I could go on the route in either direction or around the rest of the cemetery (at an appropriate speed).

      The Tourmobile business model was based on what may be considered an illegal exclusive contract with the US Park Service. That was eliminated and that’s what killed the service. What should happen is the creation of a set of guidelines for private bus operators to carry tourists around the Mall and cemetery. I am all for electric trams, especially inside the cemetery.

  • Michael H.

    NPS has been saying that Tourmobile had recent financial problems, but I think the real story is the controversy over the illegal no-bid monopoly contract that Tourmobile received from NPS for decades. NPS used the Tourmobile contract to keep competing transportation alternatives out of the cemetery and much of the National Mall. That included the Circulator buses and stations, pedicabs and Capital Bikeshare.

    It was only after observers began digging into the motivation behind the NPS decisions, that the problems with the Tourmobile contract were revealed. Tourmobile was awarded the exclusive contract year after year without a competitive process. NPS isn’t allowed to do that. And yet they did, for decades. It was basically a sweetheart deal for the former owner and founder of Tourmobile, a guy who had inside connections.

    I don’t care so much about whether Tourmobile existed or not, but I did care that the contract was illegal and that NPS used that contract to keep other private and government-affiliated companies off of the National Mall.

    There was no reason to have a monopoly on the Mall in the first place. Even if NPS is concerned about aesthetics and overcrowding, they could license multiple companies to operate. It’s not like the Mall isn’t frequently overrun by massive tour buses anyway. And given the demand for transportation among tourists and locals on the Mall and at the cemetery, it’s not as though there wouldn’t be other parties willing to step up and provide such services.

    We already have the Open Top buses, the Duck boats, the pedicabs, and Capital Bikeshare, which can help to provide options for people. I could see why the NPS may not want the Duck boats in the cemetery, but they could easily license other companies that aren’t as garish to drive people through the cemetery. The list could be a short one but it doesn’t need to be restricted to just one company.

    • CW

      So if NPS took the Tourmobile buses, painted them green, and operated them itself, would that be ok with you? Serious question, not trying to be sarcastic at all.

      I don’t have a problem with a sole source in this case. Tourmobile was doing this for more than 40 years. It was an institution and it kept the material standardized and ensured that the proper information was conveyed to tourists. It also controlled the level and type of intrusion via buses, etc. I think that maintaining this level of control assured ANC the respect that it deserves.

  • A taxpayer

    The Washington City Paper had an interesting article about the tourmobile monopoly in July 2011: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2011/07/28/the-never-ending-tourmobile/

    Assuming the City Paper reporting is accurate, the National Park Service was getting scammed by millions of dollars each year. As noted in the article, the park service was entitled to 35% of gross revenue over $8 million, but mysteriously received only $1.6 million during a four year period. In 2004, Tourmobile sold 1.1 million tickets at $30 a ticket. If multiple persons at the National Parks have not been fired or indicted, then there is something seriously wrong with the Park Service.

    • cough

      I have followed those things on my bike and they smell really bad, like there is no emissions control whatsoever on the exhaust.

    • Josh S

      Here’s another scenario –

      the NPS, like many government agencies, has been stripped (or never provided in the first place) of adequate personnel for things like contract oversight and enforcement.

      So, than the solution to inadequate contract enforcement, it might be better to hire people so that contract enforcement can actually happen.

      • Federal Employee

        Although I agree that some federal agencies operating with a lean staff, this is not rocket science. $30 million in revenue and mere peanuts to the government notwithstanding a 35% royalty? And occurring year after year?

        Having worked for the federal government for more than 15 years suggests to me that some gross incompetence on behalf of the Park Service has allowed this rip-off to happen.

        I hate to add fuel to the lunatic right’s beliefs, but when the federal government fails to purge the half-wits who pretend to work, the entire federal workforce gets pegged as idiots. My current 20+ year SES supervisor is so incompetent that he/she is unable to conduct a simple staff meeting, let alone contribute any meaningful work to the federal government. His/her supervisors realize the incompetence, but sit waiting for him/her to retire. They feel sorry that the incompetent SES supervisor would not likely find work anywhere else! (I must stop or my head will burst.)

  • jjbug1

    I’m an old lady. “Arl. Now” swamps me with replies from people who can’t spell “cemetery” even though that’s a given shown with the item! Why am I drawn to the notes that are loaded with all words spelled correctly and capitalized properly. If you cannot do these two elementary-school tasks, you have no business suggesting “improvements” to our current mess!

    Please, take a moment to review your quick, bright reply before sending it. You may remove evidence that you have lost your ability to write or talk now that you have an I-Pod or I-Phone that only needs a few letters to express your thoughts to friends. This is a serious loss to you, and also signals the rest of us that there is no way to converse politely and patiently today. We are looking for quite different clues to find the next step! Some of us are more concerned about rousing others to protest at the Mall than finding within our small community a way to meet and correct problems! I walk over an hour a day and I have been part of protests, but I won’t step out again unless the request is cogent, properly capitalized, and correctly spelled. Yes, I know, my husband’s grandfather learned Chinese to continue his doctor relationships. He also spent long hours trying to find Chinese words that would introduce to his students new procedures or drugs for which there were not Chinese words. Do you not know that our crazy world requires of us not only good spelling but honest attempts to reach out to those who do not share (yet) our Language? The attention of detail your 5th grade teacher called on you to attend can change the world! Don’t stop trying to get an A in English with your next reply to Arl-Now!

    • cough

      hay at lease they is writin

    • CW

      jjbug – Are you related to the Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps guy? Your writing style is eerily similar.

      Your logic may be flawed in that one could argue we are simply seeing the evolution of written communication. I am sure that, many years ago, some ancients were disheartened to see civilization move away from chiseled stone as the medium for writing. I bet they said that it “took all the thought out of it”!

  • John Andre

    So what’s being done with the Tourmobiles? re they destined for the scrap heap?
    Or will they be converted into trolleys and start running the new Columbia Pike route???

  • tour cuide

    Opening Arlington Cemetery to a host of tour operators is not a practical option given the particulars at Arlington. Specifically, the roadways within the cemetery, the groundskeeper activities, the visiting dignitaries, the walking tours, the ceremonies, not to mention the 25 to 30 funerals which are conducted most days. A cemetery is not a normal place for tours, rather an opportunity for tears and remembrances. Arlington is different though. It is a special place for all to visit and pay tribute and respect to all of those who have honored us all by their service and sacrifices. It is therefore appropriate and necessary to have one tour operator working in a fair and appropriate way to work within an organized system with all the other activities at Arlington and to allow those who want to pay tribute and honor those who have served while learning more about our country’s history. Leave the competitive marketplace to those services that it is appropriate for.


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