Street vendors in the news!

As you may already know, this year the BLS Environmental Law Society (in partnership with the Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project) launched the Street Vendor Pro-Bono Project, giving law students the opportunity to represent street vendors in front of the Environmental Control Board when they receive tickets.

A report issued this week by the New York City Independent Budget Office found that in 2008 and 2009, street vendors were issued $15.8 million in tickets. The report notes that a “complex system of regulation and enforcement has evolved” to regulate vendors and that the “rules can change from one block to the next, making it difficult for the police, who have the primary enforcement role when vendors are on the streets, to know what applies and where.” The report concludes by commenting “while there may always be some tension between the interests of vendors and the interests of community residents and businesspeople, the current system appears to provide little relief to any of them.”

The report cited enforcement by the police that is inconsistent with the law as one of the primary reasons that vendors have received $15 million in tickets in the past two years. The report failed to note that fines for vendors escalate each time they receive a ticket, even if the ticket was not for the same violation as their previous ticket. The result is that after receiving 5 tickets, each subsequent ticket that a vendor receives will cost them $1000. For example, a vendor who set up 9 rather than 10 feet from a crosswalk one day, who was wearing a scarf that covered their license (which they are required to display at all times) another day, and put a box on the ground next to their cart while they were unloading merchandise another day, would quickly find themselves approaching $1000 tickets.

In response to the report, the Street Vendor Project’s Legal Director, Matt Shapiro, was interviewed for a front page article in Metro New York yesterday. A vendor who was interviewed for the Metro NY article noted that he makes $45-$50 per day and cannot afford to pay the $1000 fines that he receives. Matt pointed out one of the many irregularities in the way vendors are regulated as compared to “brick and mortar” businesses: vendors who do not post their prices can receive a ticket for $1000; Matt asked “how many times do you walk into a bar and know what the drink prices are?” There was also a good article on Gothamist on the report which is also worth reading.

If you’d like to get involved with the Street Vendor Pro-Bono Project, please email streetvendorprobono@gmail.com.

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