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Stanford establishes new program to manage tour bus visits

Next week, Stanford will begin requiring all commercial tour groups and tour bus operators to register in advance and to observe rules for large groups.  The efforts, in response to a dramatic increase in tourist visits, are designed to accommodate visitors while assuring safety and lessening disruption to the campus community.

Kate Chesley Bus sign

Stanford has written new parking and reservation rules for the hundreds of tour buses that visit campus.

An increase in the popularity of Stanford University among tourists and a dramatic increase in tour bus visitation to the campus has prompted the university to develop a new program to manage these outside operations.

Beginning next week, Stanford will require all commercial tour groups and tour bus operators to register in advance, pay for parking and observe rules for large groups visiting the campus.

"The program is designed to accommodate Stanford's many visitors while assuring that the campus community is able to conduct daily activities without disruption, as well as to ensure traffic safety and the safety of visitors on Stanford's private property," according to notices sent by the Department of Public Safety to tour operators in advance of the April 14 enforcement date. 

The measures were taken after a census of tour bus visitation, conducted in July 2013, showed that the number of buses bringing visitors to the campus had doubled in 18 months. More than 50 buses per day visited the campus between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., when the census was conducted, with many more buses arriving in the early morning and evening hours. On some days, more than 10 buses arrived within a single hour, often in the morning.

The 2013 summer census compared to an average of 25 to 30 buses per day counted in January 2012. A single bus can carry anywhere from 40 to 60 passengers, and some new double-decker buses carry nearly 100 passengers. While summer months are particularly busy, the campus has experienced heightened tour bus traffic year-round.

The Stanford Visitor Center also has seen a dramatic rise in interest in campus tours from commercial and international tourist organizations, which are not the intended audience for the student-led campus tours.  The Visitor Center, which is operated by the Office of Admission, offers tours specifically for prospective students and their families.

Under the new tour bus program, commercial tour operators and bus companies will be required to register with Parking & Transportation Services within three days of their arrival to receive a confirmation number for a time slot between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. To avoid the large crowds that result when multiple buses arrive at once, no more than three buses will be permitted per hour. 

The new requirements will apply to third-party commercial tour operators bringing groups of nine or more tourists to the campus, and are intended to apply to large tourist vans as well as buses. School groups and other groups that have made prior arrangements through Stanford will not be required to purchase parking permits.  Campus tours specifically for prospective students and their families will continue to be operated by the Visitor Center under a separate program.

Since notices were distributed in mid-March, more than 50 tour companies have registered with the university, according to Phillip Garcia, associate director of Parking & Transportation Services.

Commercial tour buses will continue to bring passengers to the Roth Way bus drop-off zone.  The university's near-term plans will eventually relocate the buses closer to the Galvez parking lot to drop off tourists.

Tour operators will be asked to follow guidelines, including using only designated restrooms, and prohibitions on entering academic buildings without prior approval, taking photographs of classes in session, and blocking roads and bike paths with large numbers of people. Large groups also must be accompanied by a tour guide at all times, to assure the safety of visitors as well as students, faculty and staff.

Tour buses will be prohibited on dates that fall during the observance of major university events, such as admit, commencement and reunion weekends and new student orientation week.

Revenue from the bus parking permits will be used to offset the costs of accommodating large numbers of tourists on campus, including community service officers who staff tour group arrivals, maintenance of bathrooms and other costs related to the influx of visitors.

Commercial tour operators that fail to observe the new requirements will be cited.  Stanford University is private property, and Stanford enforces rules regarding campus access and the use of campus space by third-party businesses.  Stanford can take appropriate legal action against companies that fail to comply with the policy, including actions under civil or criminal trespass laws.

The new tour bus program is being jointly managed by Stanford Parking & Transportation Services and the Department of Public Safety. For further information, visit http://tourbuses.stanford.edu, email tourbuses@stanford.edu or call (650) 498-7882.