Testimony before the Committee on Consumer Affairs of the New York City Council by John Doyle, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the Real Estate Board of New York

Good afternoon Chairperson Espinal Jr. and members of the committee on Consumer Affairs.  The Real Estate Board of New York, representing over 17,000 owners, developers, managers, and brokers of real property in New York City, thanks you for the opportunity to testify on the proposals relating to street vending in New York City.

These bills – Intro. 1303 as well as T2016-5114 (now Intro. 1334) and T2016-5115 (now Intro. 1335) – aim to relax and expand the existing regulations pertaining to street vendors. REBNY and its members fully support efforts to improve employment and business opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those in our city’s immigrant community, whom these pieces of legislation would largely affect. Although these bills are well intentioned, however, we believe that there are areas in which they must be amended to ensure that achieving their goals does not come at the expense of other small businesses or public safety.

T2016-5114 and T2016-5115 raise safety concerns. The former would allow pushcarts to be placed within three feet of the curb, and the latter would modify clearance requirements near driveways, subway exits, and crosswalks. A location must currently have a 12-foot clear path to the curb before vending is permitted. This is to ensure a safe walking path for pedestrians. Permitting a vending cart to be located three feet from the curb, as opposed to the current one-foot maximum, would result in 5-foot-wide carts protruding eight feet into the sidewalk, leaving a four foot space for pedestrians to pass through – assuming the vendor does not have a line of customers. This amount of space – only one foot wider than the legally required size of a doorway for pedestrian path – is inadequate and will likely result in pedestrians walking behind the cart to avoid the line of customers.

Concerning T2016-5115, reducing the minimum clearance requirements in highly trafficked areas would add to congestion around subway stations, which already lend themselves to overcrowding during peak hours. This could create hazards for and potentially endanger both pedestrians and the vendors themselves, who may be situated too closely to areas such as driveways used for deliveries.

To address these issues of public safety, the City should conduct a study to establish a pedestrian congestion standard so that vending will only be permitted at those times and in those places where it does not pose a threat to safety. Vendor clustering should also be reviewed as part of this study. Furthermore, the inevitable rise in the number of food trucks necessitates a provision for these vendors to comply with standards that reduce both pollution and noise levels. 

Finally, Intro. 1303 would gradually expand the number of street vending permits and create a vending law enforcement unit to enforce these proposed laws. REBNY understands the desire to curtail the black market in permits and provide affordable business opportunities for a broad portion of the population. However, where this bill falls short is regarding enforcement – specifically, a periodic and meaningful review of the impact in license issuance.

The proposed establishment of an Office of Street Vendor Enforcement is not a prerequisite for the issuance of additional permits. In fact, it provides that these additional permits will be issued every March 1st, regardless of the contents of the annual recommendation to the City Council, or if no report is issued at all. These provisions are clearly no meaningful standards of enforcement. The first issuance of permits should be contingent on the full implementation of a Street Vendor Enforcement Unit, and the issuance of subsequent allocations should require an affirmative vote by the Council following the issuance of the Review Panel’s report and a public hearing. Additionally, REBNY believes that it would be fair and just for property owners should be allocated seats on this Review Panel at the same level as street vendors.

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment, and we look forward to continuing our conversations with the Council to continue improving these pieces of legislation.