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of Urban and Regional Planning
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of Wisconsin-Madison

Working Paper Series

Fining the Hand that Feeds You: Street Vendor Fines and Increasing Revenues to New York City Working Paper 12-01

April 2012
John Davis, BA, Department of Statistics and Alfonso Morales, PhD, Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension
(608) 262-8990 • FAX (608) 262-9307

Old Music Hall, 925 Bascom Mall, Madison, WI 53706

Fining the Hand that Feeds You: Street Vendor Fines and Increasing Revenues to New York City Working Paper 12-01, Apri12012 John Davis, BA, Department of Statistics University of Wisconsin - Madison and Alfonso Morales, PhD Department of Urban and Regional Planning University of Wisconsin - Madison 925 Bascom Mall 104 Music Hall Madison, WI 53706 Corresponding author: Morales - morales

Introd uction

One hundred years ago, street vendors shouted "Apples, get your apples!" in cities across the U.S. Today, "Manzanas, deliciosos!" shouted from the street represents a renaissance of street commerce, with merchants and municipalities painting the canvas of city life for many of the same reasons as they did 100 years ago. Street merchants have been essential to the economic structure and health of citizens and cities across the United States. Vending has been used to enhance food security, alleviate unemployment, and integrate new immigrants into social and economic life. At the same time, municipalities have sought to regulate vending so as to maintain order, ensure the clear passage of traffic, and reduce potential competition with brick-and-mortar businesses.

This working paper explores municipal regulation of vendors in New York City, focusing specifically on whether reconstructing penalties for civil vending infractions may increase payment.

Street vending is synonymous with New York City. City records from the 1600s indicate how intertwined vending was with other activities (Bluestone 1991). On the Lower East Side and elsewhere, immigrant vendors played a vital role in employing and provisioning the city's burgeoning population. However, just as surely as vendors filled an important niche, their activities have also been deemed "evil" and targeted for stiffer penalties and enhanced regulatory enforcement.


While enforcement tactics popularized


focused on unlicensed vendors, "quality of life" policing to those with licenses. Duneier led to ticketing for (2002) the resulting

in the 1990s expanded enforcement

(1999) described how police "micromanagement" minor infractions and confiscation

of booksellers

of goods. As Stoller discovered,

fines sometimes caused vendors to lose their licenses and exit the business.

The complexity of the current framework of vending regulations

and enforcement

agencies has left various parties unhappy with the system. In 2010, the New York City Independent enforcement Budget Office (lBO) reported on data from 2009. In 2009 street vendor cost the city $7.4 million. In addition, the city collected a small percentage million in total civil vending penalties in 2009, $14.9 million went

of fines. Out of$15.8 uncollected.

Currently, the New York City Council is considering reducing the maximum vending penalties to pre-2005 levels (Ruiz 2011). Our task here is to produce an analysis of vending penalties to answer the questions, "how do vendors respond to increased penalties?" payment?" and, "would reconstructing those penalties increase the probability of

Methods and analysis
The data consist of all civil street vendor tickets returnable to the Environmental Control Board (ECB) from 2006 to 2010. While vendors also receive criminal court summonses, this data was not available and not analyzed. In response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, the City provided comprehensive ECB data including, for each

ticket, the person who received it, the ordinance that was cited, the cost imposed and amount paid of the ticket, the legal status of the ticket, and other details such as the date and time the offense occurred.

This analysis is concerned with the relationship

between the penalty size and probability

of fine payment. Previous research of the 2009 and 2010 data supported decreased likelihood of fine payment with increased size (Schwefel 2011), and this paper extends a 2

similar analysis to the data for 2006, 2007 and 2008. One motivation for answering this question is to establish whether decreasing fine size might optimize New York City's revenue taken in from vendor violations.

To answer this question, we first utilized the spreadsheet data on the citations to determine what was owed each year. We assume tickets that were dismissed in court did not contribute to the amount of money that the City either received or failed to receive. Second, we noted whether a fine was paid, regardless of its size. Then, we sorted all the tickets by both year and penalty size and looked at the proportion of unpaid tickets based on penalty size. Finally, we applied a Chi-squared determine if fine size and payment were related. test of statistical significance to

We begin with some general descriptive statistics. For the years 2006-20 I 0, the average number of ECB tickets written to street vendors was 25,552. The average number of tickets dismissed per year was 5,672; the average number not dismissed was 19,880.







The most frequently-written

tickets during the period 2006-2010 were for vending too

near a subway or crosswalk (15%), failing to keep all items in or under the pushcart (10%), failing to keep food at proper temperature display a vending license (7%). (7%), and failing to conspicuously

We now tum to the relationship

between fine size and probability of payment. Figure 1, of payment, supports the idea that

which charts the tickets by fine size and probability

vendors are less likely to pay more expensive fines. Fines of $800 or more were paid only


7% of the time, fines between $400 and $799 were paid 25% of the time, and fines of $399 and below were paid 47% of the time.

2006-2010: Percent of Tickets Paid by Fine Size

0 .q-

~ L.
'0 0


F '0


S c a..


0 C\J





400-799 Fine Amount In Dollars ($) Figure 1


The overall Chi-squared statistic for the period was 14,353; the overall P-value was zero. A P-value of less than .05 is widely accepted as evidence of a relationship. Thus, the large Chi-squared statistic values and combined P-value of zero provide very strong statistical evidence that more expensive fines are paid less often.

The question of fine payment is complex, and our findings are the result of relatively narrow analysis. We stress that broader and more involved analyses of the data would be necessary to understand this issue more fully. People fail to pay fines for a variety of reasons, and while fine size is quite likely a major reason, much more could be said about the issue. For example, as in taxation generally, people may perceive some fines as more 4

serious or legitimate than others. It is possible that vendors pay these fines at a higher rate than others perceived as less fair or less legitimate, With that said, our analysis shows clearly that the most expensive tickets are paid with less frequency than any other fine amount. We conclude that rethinking the fine scheme in such a way that decreases the ticket penalties may increase the probability of payment and the revenue to New York City.

Bluestone, Daniel M. 1991. "'The Pushcart Evil"': Peddlers, Merchants, and New York City's Streets, 1890-1940." Journal of Urban History 18, 1 (November): 68-92. Turetsky, Doug., Vega, Eddie., O'Brien, Bernard. (2010). Sidewalk Standoff: Street Vendor Regulations are Costly, Confusing, and leave many disgruntled. New York City Independent Budget Office. Duneier, Mitchell. Sidewalk. (1999). New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Ruiz, Albor. Street vendors fight super-sized penalties handed down by Bloomberg administration. New York Daily News, Wednesday, February 09,2011. Found at 11-02-09/local/2855057 4_1_ street -vendors-sean-basinskihigher-fines. Last accessed March 26,2012. Schwefel, Brittany. "An Exploratory Analysis of2009-2010 Food Truck Violations in New York City." 2011. Stoller, Paul. 2002. Money Has No Smell: The Africanization of New York City. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. 5