Court gives failing grade to D.C. tour guide exam

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 27, 2014 

National Gallery of Art after dark, March 21, 2014 in Washington D.C.

TISH WELLS — McClatchy

A key appellate court on Friday nixed a Washington, D.C. requirement that tour guides pass a special written examination.

In a challenge brought by operators of a Segway-rental and tour business, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded the city’s exam requirement flunked constitutional scrutiny.

“The District failed to present any evidence the problems it sought to thwart actually exist,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown. “Even assuming those harms are real, there is no evidence the exam requirement is an appropriately tailored antidote.”

District officials have maintained the 100-question, multiple-choice exam is necessary to ensure quality, with applicants having to master 14 subject categories such as Landmark Buildings and Historical Events. Bypassing the exam and operating as a paid, unlicensed tour guide is punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a fine of up to $300, or both.

“The record contains no evidence ill-informed guides are indeed a problem for the District’s tourism industry,” Brown stated, noting that at one point that “the District’s reliance on a Washington Post article dating from 1927 to justify the exam requirement is...underwhelming.”

Moreover, the Republican appointee said, “market forces” in the form of customer reviews on sites like Yelp will help maintain the quality tour experience that the District seeks to enforce through the exam requirement.

“One need only peruse such websites to sample the expressed outrage and contempt that would likely befall a less than scrupulous tour guide,” Brown said. “Put simply, bad reviews are bad for business.”

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