The New York City Council is considering drastically increasing the number of food cart licenses that they generally issue each year which will increase the number of food carts that are on the streets. The City council is expected to increase the number by almost twice what they previously issued.
There are currently estimated to be anywhere from ten to twelve thousand street food vendors that are currently operating in New York City. There are only about 4,200 street food licenses that are issued which means that there are up to 8,000 food vendors who are operating illegally and often incurring significant fines to do so. The number of street food licenses has remained static since the 1980’s despite increases in the population and economic activity in the city.
The plan that the city council has will currently double the licenses over a seven year period with about 400 licenses being issued each year in the initial period. The first set of licenses will be issued to those who are currently on the waiting list for food vendor licenses which is about 2,500 deep. Once this list has been depleted new registrants will begin to obtain license to provide street food legally.
There currently exists a black market for these street food licenses and the rate that these licenses go for is about $25,000 for a two year license. When this is compared to the price for a legal license the difference is drastic. Legal licenses for street food vendors cost about $200 per year. Those who buy street food licenses have a large hill to climb over in order to begin to support their operations and often will trim their costs by providing sub-standard food products to customers. In addition, many are stuck serving foods that they know will sell, such as hot dogs, as opposed to their native cuisines which limits the options that are available in the city to customers.
As such, improving on the number of street food licenses in NYC will improve on the cultural landscape of options available to customers as well as to reduce a thriving black market for illegally obtained licenses, all while improving on the quality and safety of street food. In this context, expanding the number of street food licenses seems like an overwhelming win for all around.