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Members of the New York City Council

,
Thank you for the opportunity to speak concerning today’s proposed legislation. My
name is Ryan Thomas Devlin, and I am a professor of Public Administration at John Jay
College here in New York City. I have spent the last 10 years researching and writing
about street vending, informality, and conflicts over public space here in New York City.
My testimony here today is based on evidence from this research. I support Intro 1303
because I feel it represents a common-sense, even-handed improvement on the overly
restrictive and ultimately ineffective set of laws currently in place.
Vending law as it exists now serves to encourage informal activity and black markets.
This happens whenever laws regulating commercial activity are written in ways that do
not reflect socio-economic reality on the ground. The cap on permits, put in place in
1983, has remained basically unchanged since, despite the long waiting list for permits,
the proliferation of unpermitted food vendors, and the development of a black market in
food vending permits. This is a simple matter of economics—supply and demand. There
is pent-up demand for the goods and services food vendors provide and food vendors are
trying to meet this demand but are prevented from doing so legally and efficiently
because of out-of-step regulations. Raising the number of available permits to better
reflect economic and social realities on the ground and would go a long way to solving
issues of informal practice and black markets.
Now, this is not to say the government has no role in regulating markets. Obviously,
when markets function in ways that produce unacceptable side effects, government has a
role to step in and impose some limits and parameters for the good of society as a whole.
One of the problems with the current set of street vending regulations, however, is that
most of them were not put in place to benefit the public good broadly defined. Rather
they were enacted during the 1980s largely to protect the narrow interests of business and
property interests.
For instance, the cap on food vending permits was put in place by Local Law 17 of 1983.
In the few years prior to 1983, there were roughly 9,000 licensed food vendors, however
the new law capped permits at 3,000. This, by the way, was the first hard, permanent cap
on food vending in the city’s history. This artificially low number was arrived at largely
to satisfy demands of business and property interests at the time. Remember that in the
early 1980s, the city was still emerging from the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. City
government was generally very accommodating to the demands of the property sector.
Enacting harsh vending laws to severely limit the number of street vendors was part of
this accommodation. The property sector claimed vendors sullied the image of Midtown,
that they represented unwanted competition, and that selling goods on the street was outof-step with a clean, orderly, urban environment.
We have come a long way since the 1980s. New York is no longer in crisis. Street
vending is now seen as a vital, welcome addition to city life. Many cities across the

country try to encourage street vending and have reformed laws to make street vending
easier. New York should follow suit, and resists catering to the narrow interests of the
anti-vending set at the expense of everyday New Yorkers. The truth of the matter is that
business and property interests—now organized through BIDs, tend to be anti-vendor not
out of some sort of civic-mindedness, but because they perceive vendors as competition
and a threat to their own bottom line. City government should not be in the business of
playing favorites. And in particular, a progressive-minded council that cares about the
needs of regular working-class New Yorkers should not prioritize the interests of the
wealthy and well-connected over those of everyday citizens. Vendors want to pursue the
American dream through hard work and entrepreneurialism. New Yorkers want
inexpensive, convenient and innovative food. Let supply meet demand and raise the cap.
Thank you,

Ryan Thomas Devlin, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
City University of New York