NYC owed millions in street vendor fines

You may not realize it, but the street vendor who just sold you that bagel could be among those who collectively owe the city millions in unpaid fines.

Between 2008 and 2009, police and other city departments issued $15.8 million in fines to street vendors, the carts and trucks that sell everything from hot dogs to “I Love New York” T-shirts. Yet $14.9 million of that money remained uncollected as of December 2009, according to a report released yesterday by the NYC Independent Budget Office.

Street vendors are fined daily for such offenses as being parked too close to a fire hydrant, to such health regulation violations as not keeping hot dog water at a minimum temperature.

Why aren’t the fines being paid? Vendors say they simply don’t have the funds.

“I make $45 to $50 a day,” said one vendor who sells photos in the Financial District. “Some days I make zero; I just stand here in the cold. If I got a $200 fine for taking up too much of the sidewalk right now, I would not pay it. You have to eat. You have to pay rent.”

The fines need to be lowered, said Matthew Shapiro, legal director of the Street Vendor Project: “The fines can go up to $1,000 for not wearing your license outside your jacket. You have to be 10 feet from a crosswalk; if you’re eight feet, it’s a $1,000 fine.”

Many customers agree the city’s being too hard on these falafel-serving entrepreneurs. “They probably don’t follow most of the rules out there,” said financial advisor Gary Schneider, as he waited to get his lunch from a chicken-and-rice vendor. “But the food is quick and easy, and good.”

“They’re just trying to make a living,” agreed Dmitry Cherchas.


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