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The Partnership Responds to NYC Council Street Vendor Legislation

Today, the Partnership for New York City submitted testimony in response to the New York City Council’s proposed street vendor legislation. Without further study, the Partnership opposes an increase in the number of licensed vendors.

Thank you Chair Espinal and members of the committee for the opportunity to submit testimony on legislation concerning street vendors. The Partnership for New York City represents the city’s business leaders and largest private sector employers working to enhance the economy of the five boroughs of New York City and maintain the city’s position as the pre-eminent global center of commerce, innovation and economic opportunity.

The Partnership recognizes that street vending can be a first step on the entrepreneurial ladder for aspiring immigrants, veterans, and other New Yorkers. Vending also provides a needed service in locations that do not have alternative, affordable meal options. Without further study, however, we oppose an increase in the number of licensed vendors and creation of yet another city agency that is unlikely to have the resources to effectively supervise vending activity or enforce the laws and licensing requirements.

Street vendors, both legal and otherwise, contribute to the pedestrian and vehicular traffic congestion that clog our streets and sidewalks. They also interfere with brick and mortar businesses, both by blocking access, emitting smoke and odors, and competing with small business owners who are paying rent and real estate taxes.

We agree that the status quo on vending is unacceptable, but legislative remedies are premature. The city has not collected complete data on the licensed and unlicensed vendors who are currently operating on its streets and sidewalks, including which people on the permit waiting list work on rented carts, the current location of vendors, and the times of day they operate. The Council should support a study to collect this information before enacting new legislation.

Increasing the number of new cart permits (Int. 1116-A) as well as allowing them to vend further from the curb (Int. 287) will exacerbate current conditions of congestion. Pedestrians, tourists, bike and scooter riders, construction and delivery activities, newsstands, street furniture and sidewalk cafes all compete for limited sidewalk space.

The Council has recognized and sought to assist small businesses in neighborhood retail corridors that are being forced to close or relocate as a result of rising rents, taxes and utilities costs and competition from online retailers. Doubling the number of vendors is contradictory to the efforts to provide relief to these local businesses.

The proposed legislation would also do little to address the existing black market for permits or to ensure improvements in enforcement. Although Int. 1116-A requires the creation of an Office of Street Vendor Enforcement, it is unlikely such an office will be able to deal effectively with the increased numbers of vendors and such matters as maintaining clear paths for pedestrians, making sure vendors are in legal locations, and regulation of the black market in permits.

Finally, reform of the vending system should include on-going evaluation of the impact of reform and a mechanism to increase enforcement and roll back permit allowances in response to findings.

Street vending is an urban tradition, but as the city becomes more densely populated and consumer habits change, there is a need to carefully examine whether and how the street vending ecosystem needs to be adjusted to respond to new conditions. Advocates for more street vendors are only looking at one dimension of a more complex set of issues that need to be examined before legislating a one-sided solution. Street vendor reforms should include plans to decrease or manage congestion in the most crowded areas, mitigate harm to brick and mortar businesses, reduce illegal vending and ensure effective enforcement. None of these are adequately addressed in the bills under consideration.