New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing to form a seven-person team of lawyers to pursue and collect fines from mobile vendors. If enacted, this would cost the city $580,000. In 2006, Mayor Bloomberg quadrupled fines for street vendors. Now mobile entrepreneurs can face up to $1,000 in fines and/or three months in jail for violations.
But as Sean Basinski of the Street Vendor Project points out, “Vendors aren’t paying their fines because they can’t afford them.” In addition, Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed task force seems rather tone-deaf, since in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, food trucks and carts “were some of the first businesses to be open for business in New York.”
Unfortunately, New York City has a history of excessively fining vendors. In December 2012, the city repaid almost $230,000 to street vendors who were fined even more than permitted by the law. At least 569 entrepreneurs were affected. The city blamed a “computer error” for the fines. After a long court battle, city officials agreed to pay the difference in fines plus interest.
Yet quite a few of the fines were for code violations that hardly threated health and safety. Faruque Ahmed, who runs a food cart to support his three kids and seriously ill wife, was fined $1,000 for parking too close to a bus stop. He received $877 from the city. Then there’s Mohammad Ali, a peanut peddler, who was fined $1,000 for having his pushcart too close to a crosswalk but received $971 in compensation.
The Street Vendor Project is seeking to lower the fines to their pre-2006 levels. Sean Basinski, director of the SVP, told the New York Post “Nothing will change until we stop treating small-business owners as if they were criminals.”
— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice