Proposed Food Cart Regulations Offer Opportunity for Environmental Sustainability

With over 1 million transactions per day, it is clear that New Yorkers find street vendors to be a valuable asset.  The rules and regulations surrounding their existence, however, are in need of updates. The Council recently proposed new legislation to fall under the Street Vending Modernization Act (SVMA), that could  provide clear and seamless understanding behind street vending laws, regulations, and responsible agencies.

Sponsored by Speaker Mark-Viverito and five additional councilmembers, the legislators aims to double city-issued food vendor permits by the early 2020’s, and increase the cost of a permit application from $200 to $1,000 in the same time period. The goal  of the legislators is eliminating illegal vendors, while still providing opportunity for vendors to legally operate.

One of the biggest concerns is that the already congested sidewalks of New York City will become even more overwhelmed with new vendors, their potential customers, and the business-as-usual foot traffic. Small business owners and local restaurants feel that this permit expansion provides an unfair advantage to the street vendors.  Other arguments against the bill are that it does not address the “black market” operations (such as permit holders illegally “renting out” their existing permits), which require enforcement, or how to curtail the permit black market.

NYLCV is working to address another important issue. NYLCV president Marcia Bystryn says, “While we applaud the City Council for its thoughtful street-cart modernization package, this once-in-a-generation set of reforms will not be complete without an effort to create a cleaner, greener street-cart fleet.” Currently, many street vendors rely on gasoline or diesel fuel generators to perform their daily operations. These generators emit high levels of toxic particulate matter, nitrous oxide, and carbon monoxide. Increasing the number of vendors without addressing the manner in which they operate will prove to work against the Mayor’s OneNYC goal of reducing emissions 80% by 2050.

Emissions from the generators are known to negatively impact the health of customers and vendors. Negative environmental impacts include concentrated air quality hazards, and possible fire/explosion threats from the usage of propane tanks.

Last year, the City launched a successful pilot program that helped street vendors acquire solar powered, hybrid generators to curb their emissions. There are several benefits to switching to greener street carts. MOVE Systems, a NYC-based company has designed vending trucks that use hybrid, natural gas generators, provide the benefits of refrigeration and ventilation that normal generators typical struggle to do, and create  cleaner and healthier environments for customers and operators. In addition, these new carts are equipped with solar panels – with potential partnerships to design charging stations to work towards a fuel-free generator. Currently, testing is underway to determine if the operations of a street car can be fully supported through a battery, solar power, and access to charging stations.

The advocates and opponents to the legislation are not against reforming street vendors, and applaud the SVMA. They simply argue that the Street Vendor Advisor Board should have time to perform detailed studies and evaluations before full-fledged legislation goes into effect with unknown consequences.