Neighbors and local business owners are challenging city and state leaders to address dangerous and deceitful behavior by Hollywood tour van operators.
A town hall meeting held at the American Legion Hall Auditorium in Hollywood on Wednesday night came in response to an NBC4 I-Team undercover investigation that exposed some tour van operators driving recklessly in unsafely modified vehicles, and lying to unsuspecting tourists about the locations of celebrity homes.
The I-Team took more than 20 rides, over several months, on "open top" celebrity home tours, recording drivers running stop signs, speeding, talking on cellphones and violating weight limits.
We also heard from auto design experts who expressed concerns about the safety of vans that have been customized to become convertibles, in many cases with seatbelts modified or removed.
After seeing the I-Team reports in August, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) launched a federal investigation into the van industry, which is ongoing. NHTSA also issued "special orders" to operators of the "open top" tour vans, informing them of the agency's concern that the safety of passengers and employees are at risk, because of the way the vans have been altered, and recommending that company owners stop using the vehicles.
In recent weeks, the I-Team returned to Hollywood to see if the tour van operators have changed their behavior. We not only found the open vans are still carrying passengers and drivers just as before, the guides, in some cases, drove even more recklessly than before. They talked openly to riders about violating weight limits on streets, and inaccurately identifying homes as belonging to celebrities.
At the town hall meeting organized by the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, neighbors met with city and state leaders, law enforcement officials and tour industry representatives to discuss ways to improve the situation.
"It's an insane invasion of privacy," said one resident. "Mulholland can't accommodate buses stopping wherever they like."
City Councilman David Ryu, who represents portions of the Hollywood Hills criss-crossed by tour vans every day of the week, told residents he intends to help resolve the issue.
Councilman Ryu has asked Sen. Diane Feinstein and Congressman Adam Schiff for help in getting tour operators to stop using the topless vans, as the federal government has recommended.
Lawmakers tell the I-Team that some tour van operators complain that any new regulation will hurt their business.
But State Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian says protecting residents and tourists is the most important priority. In February, he will introduce new legislation in Sacramento that will require tighter oversight of safety and accuracy of the Hollywood tour van industry.