New York City Council to Introduce First Anti-Food Truck Law
Since the first new school trucks started appearing in New York 3 years ago we’ve worked hard to shine a light on all the tough barriers to entry they face. From cops to brick and mortar stores to other vendors, starting a food truck in this city is not easy. In addition to the finite number of permits (which are impossible to get without turning to the black market), current laws make it incredibly difficult to find a truly legal spot on the street, and inconsistent (and oftentimes incorrect) enforcement makes it hard for the vendors to know what is permissible and what isn’t. And yet, despite all of these issues, food trucks continue to operate and expand… and thankfully food trucks lovers (like us) haven’t seen the Government (or the police) take a hard line stance against these new trucks- that is, until now.
Tomorrow afternoon City Council members Jessica Lappin (from the UES) and Karen Koslowitz (from Queens) will introduce a new local law that will give the Department of Health authority to suspend any vending permit issued to a truck with two parking tickets (i.e. feeding the meter or idling) in a 12 month period, and revoke the permit of a truck that receives three parking tickets in a 12 month period. The goal is to get trucks to not idle in parking spaces all day long- but the result will essentially be to put all food trucks out of business.
I spoke with Council Member Lappin earlier today to find out exactly what she hopes to accomplish by doing this…
“I’m not an anti vendor person,” she said. “And that’s why I’m being very narrow in my focus.” Referring to the fact that the new law relates only to food trucks (not food carts) and it refers specifically to parking tickets and idling. “The piece of it that gets under my skin is the feeding of the meter.” According to Lappin, she’s gotten a lot of complaints from constituents, not just on the Upper East Side, but from Queens and all over New York City, about food trucks parking in the same spot for hours at a time, sometimes all day long. “These are public streets and nobody has the right to use them exclusively. People were willing to look the other way, until it was being abused. It’s against the law but clearly the penalty [parking tickets] is not severe enough to make people obey the law.”
City Council Member Karen Koslowitz is also attached to the law, a surprise to us considering that in the 90′s she strongly supported a measure that would have increased the number of streets that were open to vending (a measure that Giuliani vetoed.) We emailed her for a comment, but never heard back.
Sean Basinski, in a post on the Street Vendor Project website, agrees that laws should be obeyed- but feels the penalty is too harsh. “[We believe] that food vending trucks should comply with the parking laws, like everyone. We see no reason to punish vendors for parking violations more severely (with the loss of their means of livelihood!) than other individuals or small business owners who park illegally.”
In other words, if this law was to pass it would most likely put food trucks out of business. Thomas DeGeest, the owner of the Wafels & Dinges truck says that they get an average of 3 parking tickets a month. “And that is with a relentless effort to avoid them. Revoking [a permit] at 3 per year sounds like a Stalinist sabotage of the industry.”
Even though we’ve been warning about stuff like this for years, and understand the feelings of business owners who have trucks parked in front of their brick and mortar stores, we obviously are completely against this law. Punishment should fit the crime… and in the case of parking violations, the punishment is parking tickets, not permanently taking away somebody’s business- which is exactly what would happen if a vendor license was revoked. It wouldn’t be fair to suspend a drivers license after 3 parking tickets, why is it fair to revoke a vending license?
We’re not saying food trucks don’t need to follow the parking rules. We just find it hard to believe that this law is motivated by voters who want to free up a few more parking spaces in the city. (Food trucks make up a minuscule percentage of the commercial vehicles that idle in parking spaces for hours in this city.) And if council members care about their constituents, they should hear the voices of those who love street vendors as much as from those who don’t. We should be pushing to pass laws that help street vendors vend legally in a way that is acceptable to everybody in the community- rather than a law that would strip a vendor of his livelihood because he was a few minutes late feeding a meter.
To her credit, Council Member Lappin did tell me she was willing to hear ideas that would help create more legal spots for food vendors. Let’s get her to give up on this law (which would put some of our favorite food trucks out of business), and then hold her to that promise!
The law is being introduced tomorrow around 1pm, but the hearing where people can testify for or against the law isn’t until next Wednesday, June 16th at 10am. Want to make your voice heard? You can reach Council Member Jessica Lappin via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), on her website, and on twitter. And Council Member Koslowitz via email (Koslowitz@council.nyc.gov). Plus the Street Vendor Project has set up a Facebook group, in the hopes of discouraging the law from passing.