Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Cart Wheeling and Dealing

As the WSJ is reporting today-and it comes as no great surprise to us-there is a thriving black market in food cart permits: "Monawara Sultana says her rent is going up: $14,000 for a two-year permit to run a food cart where she sells $1 hot dogs outside of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. And it's not the city levying the increase or recouping the money. It's the permit holder, who is asking for double what she previously paid, according to Ms. Sultana. "It's not fair," said the Bangladeshi immigrant and mother of three. "Why did it go up so much?"

Can you say black market? WSJ can: "The city's competitive street food culture has created a thriving black market for mobile food vending permits issued by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The city charges a mere $200 for most food-cart permits, which must be paid every two years when they are renewed. But it only issues 3,100 year-round permits plus an additional 1,000 seasonal permits—not enough to satisfy demand. Transferring or renting these permits to another vendor is illegal but everyone, including the city's Health Department, acknowledges, that it happens."

Which is just another indication that the entire food vendor system needs to be overhauled-from licensing and street placement, all the way to an enforcement that is almost nonexistent. Still, even after the IBO's expose on the subject-and the fact that millions of dollars of fines were going uncollected-the Bloomberg administration remains stuck in the mud.

On top of this, all of the cries of legitimate store owners about how veggie peddlers are cannibalizing their produce business has fallen on deaf ears. We have also been pointing out that it appears that certain individuals-contrary to the law-hold multiple permits and illegally rent them out for exorbitant profits. Often for a 24 hour cycle to more than one vendor license holder.

Here's the DOH comments: "Elliott Marcus, an associate health commissioner, said the black market was a source of "big concern." Still, in a statement, the Department of Health noted: "While the Health Department suspects that in some instances permits are being transferred illegally, it is extremely difficult to prove an illegal sale in a particular case because the law does allow a permit holder to employ other licensed vendors to work his or her cart." To help remedy that, the department will soon propose changes requiring that permit holders appear when renewing permits and carts are re-inspected every two years."

How about a total overhaul-with an agency or task force dedicated to just this issue? "Meanwhile, demand for permits and their black-market prices continue to climb as street food's popularity soars with blogs like Midtown Lunch chronicling vendors' moves and some gourmet food trucks developing cult-like followings. Some permits fetch as much as $20,000 for two years, vendors say. In the case of Ms. Sultana, the Bronx food vendor, she says the permit holder told her someone else was willing to pay $15,000 for the permit she previously paid $7,000 for two years ago."

This is an area that is replete with corruption-and it appears that Public Advocate de Blasio is looking to propose some major changes in the vendor system-to both insure fairness and to protect the city's tax paying store owners. When his reforms are proposed, they should be given a fair hearing along with swift action. For too long local communities and neighborhood stores have been victimized by an out of control street vendor system. The chaos has gone on long enough.