Council Committee Considers Doubling the Number of Permits for Food Trucks

While there are thousands of food carts scattered across the city, many of them may not be operating legally. For decades, there has been a cap on the number of food carts but the City Council wants to change that. But as our Courtney Gross explains, the proposal isn't sitting well with everyone.

It's a fixture on hundreds of city sidewalks — the food cart.

Right now there are about 4,100 permits for these carts spread across the city.

Question: "Can you show me the permit?"

"It's in here," said one vendor we spoke to. "It's not mine. It's boss."

He went inside and came out with an envelope. Inside was a slip of paper that could potentially be sold  for thousands of dollars.

That's because there is a limit on the number of food vendor permits the city issues.

The City Council wants to more than double that number.

"This is an incredibly balanced approach," said City Councilman Mark Levine.

Vendors, restaurateurs and business leaders packed the council chamber on Wednesday to weigh in on legislation that would raise the number of food vendor permits over seven years — growing from 4,100 to more than 8,500 permits.

"Vendors have been waiting 35 years for this change," said Sean Basinski, with the Street Vendor Project.

"Just doubling the number of permits is only going to exacerbate the problem," said Andrew Rigie with the Hospitality Alliance.

The cap on the number of permits has been around since the 1980s. It created a black market — people sell permits for tens of thousands of dollars outside of the city's purview.

"Yes, this is good, because in the black market the permit has a lot of cost — $20,000, $25,000," said vendor Mdanwer Kader.

Other vendors just operate illegally.

The administration says it doesn't know how big of a problem this really is. It wants to study it first before it takes a concrete position on the proposal.

Letting it simmer.

"Your refusal to even concede some very basic realities about this challenge that every New Yorker knows including the prevalence of thousands of unpermited vendors is pretty surprising," Councilman Levine said.

"We want to be very deliberative and we make sure we get it right," said Lindsay Greene with the mayor's office.

For now, it's unclear if there is a real appetite for this legislation to become law.

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