Council eyes increasing street vendor permits

| 02 Nov 2016 | 04:48

The City Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs held a hearing last week on new legislation that would change the way street vendors throughout the city operate.

The bundle of nine separate bills at the Wednesday session is being called the Street Vendor Modernization Act, emphasizing the outdated nature of existing street vendor rules. The number of vending permits has been capped at 4,235 since the early 1980s. Under the new act, the number of permits available would double over a span of seven years.

Critics of longstanding restrictions on permits say that they have forced many vendors to work for a permit owner or turn to the black market.

“For generations, street vendors have been meeting our needs and they’ve done it when and where New Yorkers have wanted it,” said Council Member Mark Levine, who introduced the bill proposing to lift the cap on permits. “Street vending, however, has remained frozen in time.” Besides doubling the number of permits available, the legislation would create a street vendor enforcement office, allow the city to collect sales tax on vendors, require vendors to post their food prices and ease the regulations on how far vendors must be located from bus stops and subway stations.

Council Members Margaret Chin, Ydanis Rodriguez, Rafael Espinal, Brad Lander, Corey Johnson and Karen Koslowitz are all sponsoring various parts of the proposed bundle of legislation.

The Council’s chambers in City Hall were dotted with yellow t-shirts reading “Vendor power!” throughout the more than eight-hour hearing in which over 80 people testified. Street vendors, business owners, residents, labor activists and city officials all gave their thoughts on the bill. For Mark Dicus, executive director of the Soho Broadway Initiative, the relationship between street vendors and business owners is particularly strained in the crowded business improvement district he oversees.

“While this legislation is a start, it does not go far enough in addressing many of the fundamental flaws facing the street vendor system,” Dicus said at the hearing. “The proposed legislation does not address the black market for food cart permits. The bill also does not change the first-come-first-served system by which locations are chosen; vendors will continue to fight for locations and be encouraged to break the rules.”

He also listed noise and exhaust pollution, community input and NYPD involvement as more concerns for the committee to consider.

Delmi Zolaya, a street vendor who lacks a permit, said she was surprised that people consider vendors a problem in the city.

“I have a ticket from last year for $1,000 and I haven’t been able to pay for it yet because it’s not like I’m selling $300 dollars a day,” Zolaya said. “Nobody cares about it.” Irma Lasala, who sells fruits and vegetables in Queens, said she needs a permit so she can “continue contributing to this city.”

She said: “We want to be heard.”

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at