License Caps Send NYC Food Vendors to Black Market, Public Parks, Private Property

David Weber (pictured), president of the New York City Food Truck Association

by Jan Fletcher | Intuit Go Payment Blog

David Weber (pictured), president of the New York City Food Truck Association

Mobile vending permits are hot commodities in New York City: Due to an estimated 15-year wait time for legit applicants, a two-year, $200 permit can fetch more than $20,000 on the black market, The Wall Street Journal reports.

According to city officials, municipal laws cap the number of food carts and trucks allowed to operate. Citywide vending permits (the most coveted category) are capped at 2,800, and 200 more are borough-specific (50 per borough, Manhattan excluded). People with disabilities and veterans have access to an additional 100 permits allotted to both of those groups. Seasonal operators and those who operate “green” (produce) carts compete for a separate allotment of another 1,000 permits for each group. All together, these total 5,100 permits. 

David Weber (pictured), president of the New York City Food Truck Association and author of the upcoming book The Food Truck Handbook: Start, Grow and Succeed in the Mobile Food Business, says he is seeking legal alternatives to costly, illegal license transfers, such as park concessions and sales on private property.

The city’s parks intermittently issue requests for proposals to operate park concessions, and there’s no waiting list for these restricted area permits. Weber recommends new vendors go this route, which provides “a great way to get into mobile vending in a very high traffic location.” The strategy gives new vendors better odds at obtaining legal permits and benefits park patrons through enhanced amenities, he explains.

Weber says his association, whose 28 members collectively operate 45 trucks, also aims to establish “food truck courts” on privately owned parking lots. Members would share any rental costs. “We’re trying to find specific locations that can accommodate a couple of trucks at a time and create little hubs for food trucks to vend safely,” he says. “You could find your own parking lot and put your truck on that parking lot every single day of the week.”

The regulatory scheme in New York City, as it pertains to vending, allows vendors to move to different places throughout the week, Weber adds. “We think that’s a great opportunity to learn more about your customers and get your brands exposed to the most people possible. So, we’re trying to create a system that sort of mimics that.”

The synergistic effect of parking multiple trucks in one place would also boost business, he says. “It’s safe and stable. Street parking is quite hard in New York City, and it’s even harder when you’ve got a big truck — and a bunch of vending rules to contend with — to find a spot that’s legal.”

Due to the impact of licensing restrictions on vendors, leaders of Occupy Wall Street have teamed up with the Street Vendor Project to advocate for New York City’s mobile vendors. The project’s leaders commissioned a study which concluded that the city’s street vendors face a “regulatory landscape [that] continues to be heavily restricted and difficult to navigate.”