Light at the End of Tunnel for NYC Food Trucks

October 12, 2016 • 6 min read
Ahmad El-Najjar

Ahmad El-Najjar


On October 11, 2016, the New York City Council announced its plans to introduce new legislation affecting street vending—food carts and trucks in particular—at the next City Council Meeting, on October 13. The Street Vending Modernization Act (SVMA) aims to reform the process of street vendor permitting and enforcement in New York City. The Act would benefit both current NYC food trucks and street vendors, as well as foodpreneurs looking to open a business.

As City Council Member Mark Levine, a proponent of small business expansion and empowerment, noted, “Street vendors are the ultimate mom and pop shops. But the system in which they have been licensed and regulated has been dysfunctional for years.”

The SVMA is a response to the fact that the limit on the number of NYC food carts and trucks allowed on the streets hasn’t budged in about forty years. The original intent of that limit was to curb the number of street vendors taking up sidewalk and road space. What actually emerged was a virtual black market wherein permit holders who no longer even operated food vending carts or trucks were illegally renting out their permits for thousands of dollars. This illicit dealing in permits, alongside draconian and unenforceable regulations, has led to a broken system for managing NYC food trucks and street vendors.

What would the Street Vending Modernization Act do?

How does the SVMA propose to mend that broken system for NYC food trucks and street vendors?

street vendor modernization act

Levine, who also supports the Small Business Jobs Survival Act currently in the City Council and which would give lease negotiation rights to commercial tenants, applauded the proposed legislation, “The SVMA is a tremendous step forward in creating thousands of new opportunities for a diverse population of low-income New Yorkers, while also introducing innovative enforcement instruments that benefit the neighborhoods.”

NYC food trucks: Expanding opportunities

One of the key provisions of the SVMA is doubling the number of permits over the next seven years. Currently, the number of food truck permits in NYC stands at 4,235. If SVMA gets a passing vote from the City Council, that number will double to almost 8,500 by 2024.

food truck permits

Another key provision is the one that would affect veteran and the disabled entrepreneurs. The SVMA would “give more people the opportunity to make a living through street vending, while also implementing robust enforcement mechanisms that apply the rules fairly and equally,” said Council Member Eric Ulrich, Chairman of the City Council Committee on Veterans. He is very pleased with the veteran and disabled provision, which would set aside five percent of the new permits, or somewhere between 210 and 220 permits. He noted that the legislation would also encourage “our large and diverse veterans community [to] enter the food vending industry.”

How the SVMA could change the law

The key legal components of the SVMA would create a completely new enforcement agency and authorize the City of New York to create a certificate allowing for the collection of taxes specific to street vendors, improving the process.

The SVMA would introduce an amendment to the New York city charter and the administrative code by creating an Office of Street Vendor Enforcement, and establishing a Street Vendor Advisory Board.

Council Member Levine argues that establishing “a Street Vendor Advisory Board and the first-of-its-kind Office of Street Vendor Enforcement will ensure fairness and consistency in the way street vendors are regulated.” It would also “enable the stifled street vendor industry to thrive” by offering a “streamlined system for the countless New Yorkers who have been kept out of it for too long.”

When could the Act go into effect?

Beyond all the hullabaloo around this soon-to-be introduced legislation is the question of when the SVMA would take effect. Unfortunately for those 2,500 individuals already on the waitlist for a street vendor permit, the SVMA still has a long way to go before becoming law.

street vendor modernization act

First, the SVMA must be officially introduced to the New York City Council as legislation, which is scheduled for October 13, 2016. Following its introduction, the SVMA will be referred to a committee. In this case, the committee will most likely be the Committee on Consumer Affairs, which currently handles street vendor permitting. Once in Committee, the Chairperson of the Committee, must call for a Public Hearing, so that the general public can be invited to hear the details of the bill and have an opportunity to speak. (Council Member Rafael Espinal, of Brooklyn, is the current chair.)

The Committee can then make recommendations for amendments to the bill or accept it as-is, sending it on the the City Council for a vote. Once the SVMA has been sent back to the Council, a vote will be scheduled. If the SVMA is supported by a majority of the City Council (a minimum of 26 votes), it will then go to the Mayor. If it passes with between 26 – 33 votes, the Mayor can veto the bill, although most observers think that unlikely. However, if the SVMA gets 34 yes votes in City Council, the bill is essentially veto-proof and will become law. Finally, once the SVMA becomes law, it will take approximately 180 days for the law to go into effect.

What this all means for anyone holding their breath for the SVMA to become law is that they should stop doing that. Best case scenario, the bill can become law in a minimum of eight months.

In the meantime, for those interested in getting in on the ground floor of a new age of NYC food trucks and street vending, be sure to check out our post Food Truck Fantasies: Opening a Truck of Your Own. Our advice is to get started now!

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