Taking it to the Streets

New street vendor bill could reshape the NYC landscape

| 25 Jan 2021 | 11:08

As the cap on food vendor permits has not changed since the 1980s and many vendors operate illegally, NYC is hoping to change this with legislation that would nearly double the number of permits.

On Jan. 28, the City Council will vote on Intro-116, which would increase permits from 5,000 to 9,000, create an office of street vendor enforcement and establish a street vendor advisory board.

The lead sponsor on the bill is Council Member Margaret Chin, who is joined by 31 of her colleagues, including Ben Kallos, Mark Levine and Carlina Rivera.

While the bill has received harsh criticism and is opposed by some restaurant owners, many feel increasing the cap will help. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is in favor of it, with a caveat.

“I support the vendors, but I want equally strong enforcement,” she said.

Brewer feels this will help eliminate the black market for food vendor permits and make the industry more sustainable.

She noted that while some small businesses may feel shunned as indoor dining is still banned, Brewer feels that by the time this bill is put into law, the restaurants will be fully operational.

Proper Enforcement

Jessica Walker, president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, isn’t as optimistic. According to Walker, the entire street vendor system needs to be overhauled, but she questions why the legislation is being rushed through during a pandemic when many small businesses are hurting.

Like Brewer, she stressed that if the bill is passed there must be proper enforcement.

“I think the Council is trying to put out more licenses without fixing the problem,” she stated.

Under the proposed legislation, a number of new permits, now referred to as supervisory licenses, would be issued in batches each year beginning in 2022 until 2032. These licenses require at least one supervisory licensee to be present at a pushcart at all times.

This new requirement will not be applied to existing permits until 2032. The bill will also create a new vending law enforcement unit, which would exclusively enforce vending laws.

It would focus on areas of the city with known vending enforcement challenges, but will respond to all vending complaints and violations.It would also establish a street vendor advisory board to assess the effectiveness of the enforcement unit and the rollout of new permits.

There will be an office of street vendor enforcement, which would consist of enforcement agents who are specially trained in laws and rules related to vending on the streets and sidewalks. This office will be fully operational on or before Sept. 1. Enforcement activities include street patrols to inspect or examine the vending activities of at least 75 percent of permittees or licensees on an annual basis.

“I think the Council is trying to put out more licenses without fixing the problem.” Jessica Walker, president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce