New York needs to get off its tush and clean up the process for permitting and regulating food vendors City Council Member Mark Levine writes in an op-ed in the Daily News.
In October, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and a group of council members, including Levine, introduced the Street Vendor Modernization Act, a proposal to increase the number of licensed street vendors by 600 a year over the next seven years. Currently, the number of licenses is capped at 4,235, a cap that was set back in the 1980s.
Because of this limit, a black market of licenses proliferates, with some going for twenty or thirty thousand dollars. Permits sold by the city cost $200, but of course, there aren't any to purchase. Meanwhile, many street vendors simply operate without a license. As Levine points out in his op-ed laying out the case for the law, these vendors aren't inspected by the health department, meaning unsuspecting New Yorkers who eat at them are not protected by any of its regulations. (Although we've all probably eaten delicious food from unlicensed vendors and not gotten sick.)
The modernization act would also clean up an arcane and nightmarish system of penalties for minor violations, under which vendors can rack up big fines for a small infraction like failing to properly display a permit.
The city would create an Office of Street Vendor Enforcement to regulate vendors and would enforce new regulations like requiring vendors to display prices, setting clearer and firmer rules about where they can operate (so that they don't, for example, obstruct major thoroughfares or fire hydrants), and implementing safety training.
According to Levine, street vending contributes almost $200 million annually to the city economy.
Modernization is a must. For generations, street vending has served as a path to business ownership for new arrivals to New York City. D'Agostino's, Fairway, the Halal Guys and so many more all started as humble street carts before growing to become major business enterprises.
We need to keep that path of entrepreneurship alive, ensure that New Yorkers can continue to enjoy delicious street food—and protect communities from inconsistent enforcement.