By Lisa Rozner

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Because of COVID, flying may not be popular, but a growing number of locals are finding a safe way to take in the sights from above without taking off.

It was date night on a double decker for Commack resident Ranvijay Kalra and his wife.

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“You’re usually driving, right … so when I made sure my wife’s going to see the whole city, it has to be a top view,” he said.

Hence the name TopView Sightseeing. Pre-pandemic, the city sightseeing buses were packed with out-of-towners, but since reopening in summer 2020, TopView and Big Bus Tours report a drastic decrease in tourists and an increase in locals looking to get out of the house.

“Four came over from the Jersey side. There was three that came from the Bronx,” Big Bus Tours supervisor Marcos Cartagena said.

“There’s no dining in,” Sheepshead Bay resident Alvin Tavares said. “So this is actually a nice alternative.”

“I’ve never been to the Empire State Building. Never did it to the State of Liberty,” Brooklyn resident Kirill Kukuruza said.

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Government guidelines require passengers sit only on the top deck with spacing in between parties. Max capacity is 40%, so a little more than 30 people can fit on a bus that can hold 90.

“The appeal to me is your fresh air,” Crown Heights resident Mike Narbello said.

Pre-pandemic, the city sightseeing buses were packed with out-of-towners, but since reopening in summer 2020, TopView Sightseeing and Big Bus Tours report a drastic decrease in tourists and an increase in locals looking to get out of the house. (Credit: CBS2)

Both companies say locals have taken advantage of the DAY Pass.

“They do that even though they can walk through Central Park,” TopView Sightseeing bus driver Evan Abramson said.

Kids under 12 are free. Throughout the day, a family can meander downtown and then crossover to a loop uptown.

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“Instead of you having to get a few different cars or rent Ubers,” Cartagena said.

Believe it or not, the tour guides say that there are several places that locals knew nothing about.

“The history of Times Square, for instance, they didn’t know that this at one time was a horse stable,” Mark Williams, with Big Bus Tours, said.

Another fun fact New Yorkers are usually surprised to learn? The Empire State Building was built in record time; it took a little more than 400 days.

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Still, operators say they’re only filling 5-10% of the seats they were before COVID. Hundreds of employees have been furloughed.

Some customers feel it’s an obligation to bring the city back.

“If the locals will not take the tour of the city, then how are we going to motivate the tourists?” Commack resident Shobna Kalra said.

Alvin Tavares took a tour with 5-year-old Jacob.

“And now he wants to do it again. He loves buses,” Tavares said.

The tour is now a chance for natives to appreciate the bright city lights in their own backyard and illuminate it with neighborly love.

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