LISTEN: The measure is meant to eliminate what councilmembers consider noise pollution from trolley amplification systems. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports.

A trolley tour bus passes by Madison Square in downtown Savannah.

A trolley tour bus passes by Madison Square in downtown Savannah.

Credit: Benjamin Payne / GPB News

Trolley tour buses and other open-air shuttle vehicles in Savannah will soon need to be equipped with “amplified sound control devices,” under an ordinance passed unanimously Thursday by Savannah City Council.

A staple of the city's tourist-heavy Downtown Historic District, trolley tours have in recent months drawn the ire of some local residents who — through the Downtown Neighborhood Association — urged the city to eliminate what Savannah Mayor Van Johnson called “unreasonably intrusive levels of sound” from the vehicles' amplification systems.

The ordinance spells out two options that tour companies can take in order to achieve compliance.

One is through the installation of directional speaker systems which prevent tour guides' amplified narration from being “plainly audible” from a distance of 15 feet or more outside the vehicle.

Alternatively, tour guides can speak to their passengers through in-ear listening devices, such as headphones or earbuds.

“A hallmark of this administration was to discuss and ensure livability, and make sure we continuously calibrate…commercial and tour uses in our city,” Johnson said ahead of the vote, referring to efforts begun during his recently completed first term in office.

“The lowest-hanging fruit — and the furthest we were along — was dealing with tour service vehicles,” he continued, adding that city staff, in drafting the ordinance, had received input from tour companies and downtown residents.

By May 2025, the three trolley tour companies which currently operate in Savannah will need to have achieved compliance among 35% of their fleets. After another 12 months, 75% of their fleets must be in compliance, before reaching total compliance in May 2027.

This phase-in period does not apply to trolley and open-air shuttle tour companies which enter the Savannah market in the future; rather, the ordinance mandates that new operators be fully compliant before they can begin giving tours.

Before councilmembers approved the ordinance, Johnson proposed adding two provisions, both of which were adopted by City Council.

One requires vehicles to display stickers indicating their compliance; the second creates a publicly accessible log, through which citizens could track each company's compliance over the three-year phase-in.

“I think that's important, to make sure that we keep everybody's word when it comes to this,” Johnson said, referring to tour companies. “I know we're all kumbaya now. We just want to make sure that in 36 months, we're kumbaya.”

Downtown Neighborhood Association president David McDonald voiced his support for the ordinance ahead of councilmembers' vote, saying that the organization and local residents “have been working with the industry and the city for the last couple of weeks on this ordinance, and we truly believe it'll benefit us and reduce the noise that we have.”