For more than four decades, millions of visitors to National Park Service sites along the National Mall and to Arlington National Cemetery have used Tourmobile buses and trams to get around Washington, D.C. That era came to an end last week when the company closed its doors, leaving tourists to find other options to driving in the nation's capital.
An announcement posted on the company website announced the end of operations, but provided few other details.
"Thank you for your continued patronage of our Tourmobile service. We regret to announce that Tourmobile ceased all tour operations on Monday, October 31, 2011."
"For over 42 years, Tourmobile employees have shared a genuine commitment of providing outstanding service to visitors of our nation’s capital. It has also been an honor and privilege to have served military families and others who visited Arlington National Cemetery."
"We are currently unable to provide any information regarding future tour services, however, we will update our website as it becomes available. Please visit www.tourmobile.com under “Tour Updates” periodically."
A spokesperson for the NPS National Capital Region notes, "An era in providing quality interpretive transportation services in National Capital Region came to an end early last week with the keys to all Tourmobile buses and trams turned in and employees who consoled each other as their jobs came to an end."
Tourmobile began its service in 1969 and, according to its website, says it carried “upwards of two million riders annually.” Tourmobile, with its well-known red, white and blue vehicles, operated various routes that brought millions of visitors to all memorials and the Washington Monument on the National Mall. In prior years, it also operated on the Ellipse and Pennsylvania Avenue and transported visitors to Ford’s Theatre and Frederick Douglass National Historic Sites, Arlington National Cemetery, and to Mount Vernon.
Given the current economic situation, the announcement was bad news for more than 300 full-time and seasonal employees at the company. One of them, Deirdre Pryde, has worked for over 35 years as a driver, narrator and ticket sales person for Tourmobile.
“All I can hope for is that another bus company offers me a job,” Pryde said. “We’re all family here, as we all know one another well, loved our jobs, certainly want to continue.”
Pryde said that over the years she has driven violinist and conductor Itzhac Perlman, cellist Yoyo Ma, actress Elizabeth Taylor, actor Tom Hanks and presidential daughter Chelsea Clinton and her third grade class during Clinton’s first inauguration.
“There’s no one here that wants to stop working, as everyone is fully capable of continuing working," Pryde noted.
"This is a bittersweet time for the National Park Service and Tourmobile, as they have faithfully served the needs of millions of visitors all these years," said Steve Whitesell, regional director for National Capital Region. "Times change, and we are ready to enter a new era for visitors to access our national parks in greater Washington."
It's not yet clear when or if a similar operation will take Tourmobile's place.
According to the NPS, "National Capital Region has begun the process of awarding a contract to a new interpretive transportation provider. A request for qualifications announcement is open now on the Federal Business Opportunities webpage and National Capital Region hopes to name one, or possibly more than one, transportation service in the near future."