NEW YORK—Legislation that would ease fines on street vendors is expected to be passed by the New York City Council after two years of waiting.
Street vendors and their organizing group, the Street Vendor Project, have protested what they believe are excessive fines—typically $1,000 for petty violations. City councilmembers introduced bills in 2010 attempting to curb the fines and clarify the rules, but no action has taken place on these bills since then, apart from a hearing on the topic last spring.
Now, the City Council will pass some of the proposed bills, one of which will decrease the maximum fine from $1,000 to $500 and change the way penalties are assessed, so fines would increase for repeat violations.
“Today the system is broken—fines are not paid, rules are frequently misunderstood or inconsistently enforced,” said Councilman Daniel Garodnick in a telephone interview. “We wanted to add consistency and fairness to the law and ensure that fines actually get paid.”
Other bills relating to street vendors also expected to pass include one co-sponsored by Garodnick that ties violations from vendors to the person who holds the permit for the cart.
“You do two things: First, you encourage self policing by permit holders of the people who are operating their carts, and you also put them on the hook for getting fines paid,” Garodnick said.
The maximum fine bill was introduced in 2010 and another in early 2011, but many wonder why it has taken so long to pass them.
“There’s a lot of bills, and they take time to vet, to think about, to consider the various angles,” said Garodnick. “Sometimes these things move faster than others, but because there were just so many bills here, we needed to take our time to get it right.”
James Williams, 50, a street vendor selling gloves, scarves, and other general merchandise around Union Square, is on the Leadership Board of the Street Vendor Project, and he said that he is excited for the bills to pass.
“It’s a fantastic thing to happen for us and for all the street vendors in New York,” he said in a telephone interview.
The bills will definitely pass, according to Williams, because the majority of councilmembers have signed on as cosponsors. For instance, 32 out of 51 councilmembers have signed the bill that would decrease the maximum fine.
The maximum fine decrease “will go a long way towards making life a little easier on hardworking vendors,” said Councilman Stephen Levin, one of the cosponsors, in a Feb. 21 press release.
Not everyone is pleased, though. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at an unrelated event on Thursday that reducing the fines is “one of the stupider things I have ever heard.”
“We want the rules in place—we want people to follow the rules,” he said. “If you reduce the fines, they will follow them less.”
“If anything, you should raise the fines,” he added, saying that he will veto the bill. If the mayor vetoes a bill, it returns to the City Council, where a two-thirds majority is then needed to absolve the veto.
Bloomberg had more to say:
“The public should understand exactly what this bill is about. It is to not protect the public—it is to protect the vendors. I can’t imagine why anyone would think [that] if [you] reduce the fines, people are going to follow something more. It doesn’t make any sense in your personal life, and it doesn’t make any sense in the vendors’ [lives] either.”
Additional reporting by Kristen Meriwether.