The Wall Street Journal has a news article under the headline "Street Vendors Cost the City Millions." It begins:
Street vendors are costing the city millions in enforcement and in uncollected fines.
Roughly $14.9 million dollars in fines went uncollected as of Dec. 15, 2009. Permitting, regulation and enforcement of vendors cost the city at least $7.4 million in fiscal year 2009, with most of the cost attributed to the police's street peddling enforcement unit, according to the nonpartisan Independent Budget Office.
Street vending revenues in 2009 came to about $1.4 million.
It seems to me that what's costing the city millions is not the street vendors but the elaborate regulatory structure the city government has chosen to impose on them. The Independent Budget Office report upon which the Journal article is based refers to the regulations as "costly" and "confusing." Almost as confusing, perhaps, as the Journal article's claim that "Street vending revenues in 2009 came to about $1.4 million." Whose revenues? The street vendors' revenues? The government's revenues from harassing the street vendors with regulations? The IBO report says the $1.4 million is city revenue from "street vending fees and fines." But that doesn't include sales tax revenue generated by the street vendors, or income taxes paid by the vendors.
From the IBO report:
There are a myriad of regulations for street vendors, including restrictions on the number of licenses for different types of vendors. There is a long-standing cap of 853 licenses for general merchandise vendors; separate general vending license rules apply to military veterans with an honorable discharge, with different licenses for able-bodied and disabled veterans. There are 3,000 permits for year-round food carts, 200 borough-specific permits, plus additional permits for seasonal carts, and no cap at all on the number of vendors who sell books or artwork....
With the different types of licenses also come different rules on where and when vendors can vend. These 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. In Manhattan alone there are rules that restrict general merchandise vending on at least 160 blocks, with outright bans on some blocks and limits on hours or days vending is permitted on other blocks. For example, general vendors are banned from the east—but not the west—side of Fifth Avenue between 81st and 84th streets from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Moreover, different sets of rules are in place for able-bodied and disabled veterans who sell general merchandise. For food vendors, there are other street-related time and place rules. Vendors selling books or art cannot peddle on streets banned for general and food vendors. Another set of rules applies to vending in city parks...
I've always had a bit of a soft spot for New York City street vendors because one of my great-grandfathers was one. But even if you aren't a descendant of a street vendor, you might think that a newspaper that stands for free markets and free people and that bills itself as the daily diary of the American dream would have the capacity to see this situation as one in which it's the regulations and the regulators, not the vendors, that are costing the city money.