DOWNTOWN — City Sights LA, a tour bus company that has been challenging established rival Starline Tours this summer, has been operating in Santa Monica without a license, according to state officials.

The California Public Utilities Commission must issue a tour bus company a valid PUC license before operations can legally commence.

City Sights LA, an arm of well-established New York tour bus company City Sights NY, applied for a PUC license on April 27, but was denied because the California Highway Patrol found deficiencies in the company’s preventative maintenance program and record keeping, said Susan Carothers, information officer with the commission, in an e-mail.

The company reapplied for a license on July 13, but the decision is still “pending” a safety inspection from the CHP.

In the meantime, City Sights LA has partnered up with Hollywood Sightseeing Tours, a lesser known tour bus company.

“It’s not a strong enough brand so that’s one reason they’ve partnered with us,” said David Chien, City Sights LA director of marketing.

Chien said that City Sights LA is using buses owned and operated by Hollywood Sightseeing while their license status is pending. They are using the City Sights LA name on the buses to draw in customers, he said.

However, Carothers stated via e-mail that this is not in accordance with the commission rules.

“If a company is operating a vehicle that is not correctly identified, the remedy would typically be that the [commission] issues a corrective notice to the company ordering it to comply with the [commission’s] vehicle identification requirements,” wrote Christopher Chow, public information officer with the commission, in an e-mail.

He added that enforcement staff is investigating City Sights LA’s operations.

“Why are they using someone else’s license?” asked Vahid Sapir, president of Starline Tours, which is known for its double-decker red buses. “They are looping around the laws.”

Misti Kerns, president and CEO of the Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau, encouraged “healthy competition” between the newbie and Starline Tours, saying that a new company would give visitors more options during their stay.

While City Sights LA does have a valid business license with City Hall, Don Patterson, the revenue and operations manager for City Hall, said that does not mean the bus company can operate legally within Santa Monica.

“They have to comply with other licenses or permits,” Patterson said.

In prior cases, the commission has fined companies or has shut them down for operating without a valid PUC license.

“We are definitely following the books,” Chien said, adding that he believes a PUC license “should be forthcoming.”

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