For tour guides, history rolls along

When sophomore Julie Rheinstrom decided to become a Segway tour guide last April, she didn’t expect to learn the diameter of the Hirshhorn Museum.

“[It’s] 231 feet and 7 inches,” she said.

Rheinstrom works for City Segway Tours, one of three companies in D.C. that leads tours on the self-balancing machines.

“It’s a fun way to learn kind of random facts about the city,” said Samuel Bernstein, a junior who started giving Segway tours in August. “And it’s a fun way to get out and see things that you might not necessarily see just walking around.”

After being updated in July, the District’s tour guide regulations now require all D.C. tour guides to complete a licensing process that costs $200 and includes a multiple-choice exam on the city’s history.

Sophomore Ryan Donovan said the process is tedious, but he is willing to complete the necessary steps to become a licensed tour guide.

“But really, whether you’re licensed or not, I think it’s just about knowing the sites in the city, and showing all the people your love of the city that they’ve come to visit,” Donovan said.

John Voci, manager of City Segway Tours’ D.C. office, agrees that it is unnecessary to resist the new regulations.

“Our biggest concern is to accept whatever rules and regulations are out there,” said Voci, a recent GW graduate. “We know they don’t negate our ability to do business.”

Besides the licensure process, Donovan said the job is a serious time commitment. City Segway Tours requires that its employees are available to give seven tours each week. The company offers both two-hour tours and three-hour tours.

For Rheinstrom, part of the job’s appeal is that no one tour is ever the same. “There are just funny things that happen every day,” she said, “like when the Secret Service officers make fun of me for being a Segway tour guide.”

Bernstein said the surrounding environment and the reactions of passersby are a major part of the overall experience. “More often than not, people are just surprised and don’t really know what to do,” Bernstein said.

“Some people care more about the Segways than they do about the history,” Donovan said. “Sometimes you get people that just completely do not care what you have to say and just want to ride around.”

For riders interested in history, however, Donovan said the tours are a great way to learn more about the city.

As part of the training process, City Segway Tours provides tour guides with a book containing facts and information about tour sites.

“I could tell you random stuff that you would never ever need to know about D.C., and it’s just kind of fun to have that knowledge in your back pocket,” Rheinstrom said.

She said tour guides also learn a lot from each other and from their own tour experiences.

Bernstein likewise values the skills that leading tours has provided him.

“What I think I’m getting out of this is good experience interacting with different types of people, and almost selling D.C. to a group of eight people at a time,” he said.

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