Six people involved in street food vending were arrested and charged with fraud this morning, as a result of a city-wide sting operation targeting the black market in the vending community. The six were accused of violations such as submitting forged documents to the Department of Health, and renting out carts that would pass inspection to vendors whose own carts would have failed.
This is part of the city’s two-year probe into the street vending black market, which has found that at least 500 vending licenses are held illegally, although there are probably far more than that. It’s nearly impossible to get one of the 3,100 vending permits that the city allows, and only a handful become legally available each year.
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Incredibly, Rose Gill Hearn, the commissioner of the Department of Investigation, is quoted in the Times’ Diner’s Journal saying that the city should respond to the black market by instituting a bidding system for the limited number of permits.
“Under the current system, the permits are so inexpensive and the inspection process is so loose that it creates an opportunity for fraud,” she said in an interview. “The city of New York should get the money that’s on the table, not black marketeers.”
This is an astounding thing to say. Instead of promoting the vending bill that is currently in front of the City Council, which would increase the vending permit cap from 3,100 to 25,000, and thus give more people a chance to vend legally (and net the city more money), Hearn would rather save those 3,100 permits for the highest bidders, essentially excluding the people who have always formed the backbone of the vending community: recent immigrants. Under a bidding system, you could say goodbye to your favorite little taco stand.
No one goes into vending because they’re going to make a fortune–a study by the Street Vendor Project showed that most people do it because they feel they have no other choice. Even if you don’t speak English well, and don’t have an education, you can sell goods on the street to support your family. It’s an honorable profession, one that’s always been performed by immigrants, but one that’s always been the target of anti-immigrant bias.
New York’s street vending has been pushed into its current state of chaos and disrepair by unchecked bureaucracy–vendors are regulated by as many as seven city agencies–and unreasonably low permit limits, which were set in 1979 by then Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Bruce Ratner, always a friend to the common man. Instead of cracking down on a broken system that’s full of people who are just trying to make a living, why don’t we pass the increase on vendor permit caps and give folks a chance to sell legally? If more vendors were within the legal system, it would be easier to conduct health inspections, and other necessary bureaucracy.