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Food Trucks

The Brian Lehrer Show

Bringing Food Trucks into the Open

Friday, May 01, 2015

The number of mobile food permits in NYC was capped years ago, so getting permits requires a shadowy system. WNYC's Ilya Marritz and two industry players talk about reforming the system.

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WNYC News

Stricter Rules Fail to Dent Black Market for Vendor Permits

Friday, May 01, 2015

There’s a shadowy backstory to kimchi tacos and falafel platters served out of food trucks. Many vendors pay high prices to “rent” other people’s permits on the black market.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Mom of the Year; Food Truck Permits; Subway Adventures

Friday, May 01, 2015

Baltimore's so-called "#MomOfTheYear;" reforming the food truck permit system; an update on Nepal's earthquake; when America became a Christian nation & subway adventures.

Features

WNYC's Complete Guide to Memorial Day

Thursday, May 23, 2013

We've broken down the best of the boroughs day by day - so you have no excuse to do nothing.

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WNYC News

A Bid to Make Peace in the Food Truck Wars

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Restaurants are often the first to complain when food trucks move in. But the trucks have also been on shaky legal ground since a judge ruled in 2011 that they cannot idle in metered parking spaces.

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WNYC News

Chew on This! Food Truck Uses Compressed Natural Gas

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and oil man turned natural gas booster T. Boone Pickens introduced a new kind of food truck Thursday — one that they say is more environmentally friendly than the gas-guzzlers that choke city streets.

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WNYC News

Food Vendors Speak Out on City's Plan to Overhaul Rules

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Food vendors selling everything from falafels and hot dogs to ice cream sandwiches and schnitzel will get a chance to weigh in on sweeping changes to the rules governing the way street food is prepared and sold.

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WNYC News

Changing Food Truck Permitting Process Could Raise Millions

Friday, June 08, 2012

If New York City used a bidding system to issue food truck permits — much like it does for taxi medallions or park concessions — the city could add $37 million to its coffers.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Food Truck Permits

Friday, June 08, 2012

The economics behind the rise of food trucks in New York City are surprisingly complex. Ilya Marritz, WNYC reporter, discusses the convoluted permitting system for food trucks, and the black market that's sprung up as a result.

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Transportation Nation

Broken Permitting System Forces NYC Food Trucks Into Black Market

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The line on a recent afternoon for Korilla food truck. (Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

(Ilya Marritz - New York, NY, WNYC) Running a food truck may be the hippest job around. But there is a shadowy side to food trucks’ fun and quirky image.

In order to get started, many of these gourmet trucks flout the law, and pay high prices to obtain black-market vendor permits. They say they have no choice.

Ed Song is a part of the new wave of gourmet trucks. Together with two friends, he started Korilla, a group of three bright orange trucks that sell bulgogi, burritos and tofu tacos.

Ed Song (photo by Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

Speaking from his office in Ridgewood, Queens, the spiky-haired 26-year old sporting a Mickey Mouse T-Shirt said he decided to start a food business shortly after graduating from Columbia with a degree in economics and mathematics.

It was the year Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers failed, and striking out on his own seemed like the best path.

“All the jobs in finance were all drying up. And so I decided to take the opportunity to do what I wanted to do. And follow a passion,” said Song, whose parents emigrated to New York from South Korea.

Then Song discovered the fact that confronts every new food truck entrepreneur: to sell prepared food on the streets of New York City you need a permit. It’s a little bit like a driver’s license, authorizing the holder to be on the road.

A Mobile Permit Road Block

There are only 3,000 citywide, two-year permits, and there are so many names on the wait list (more than 2,000) that the Department of Health hasn’t taken names since 2007.

“There really is no legal channel to go through to obtain a permit,” he said.

So Song turned to a middleman for the permit for one of his three trucks (the other two permits he obtained by going into partnership with existing permit holders).

Recalling his first contact with the middleman, Song said “it was scary. You’re giving them a lot of hundred dollar bills without a receipt. It’s just the nature of the business.”

After an initial down payment, Song took the truck to the Department of Health for inspection, and when it passed, he paid the balance and received the white sticker that’s now on the side of the truck. In total, it cost about $20,000.

Several others in the food truck business confirmed the existence of a large and robust underground market for permits. But only Ed Song allowed his name to be used.

One popular vendor told WNYC anonymously that turning to the black market went against her instincts, as someone who’d worked in a variety of retail and service businesses.

“All the other jobs or businesses I was involved with were much more straightforward in terms of paperwork or how you get a license for something,” she said.

Vendors say the city’s Health Department does a thorough job of checking sanitary conditions in trucks. And traffic police frequently chase trucks out of spaces where vending is not allowed. But by ignoring the trade in permits, the Health Department forces them into the black market it claims it’s trying to eliminate.

It’s not known how many trucks operate under illicitly procured permits.

Song isn’t even sure whose name is on the permit he uses, and treats as his own.

“I could try to remember. I do have his name somewhere,” he said. “I don’t think this person even lives in New York City.”

How it Works

Where red-brick residential Brooklyn gives way to a grittier industrial neighborhood, there’s an unmarked asphalt lot where permits can easily be bought and sold.

This is a commissary, a one-stop shop where food truck entrepreneurs can get everything they need: purchase a vehicle, order meat and vegetables -- and secure a permit too.

On a recent visit to the lot, WNYC asked about buying a permit. A worker took the reporter into a store room full of jars of mayonnaise and pickles, and dialed a number on a cell phone and handed the phone to the reporter.

The man on the other end of the line, who called himself Mohammed, said he could obtain a second-hand permit in a few days, and it would cost $18,000.

New York City’s Health Department charges just $200 for the same document, so the street value is nearly 100 times higher than the official price. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported the street price was around $14,000, up sharply from just a few years earlier.

Vendors say the black market thrives because permit-holders can renew their papers year after year, for decades, without proving that they still operate a truck.

Like an illegal sublettor with a rent-controlled apartment, the vendor pockets the difference between the price set by the government and the market price.

A Longstanding Problem

Authorities are aware of the problem. In 2009, six people were arrested for trading in black market permits, which can be a felony offense. The arrestees included a Queens woman, Ifigenia Tsatsaronis (PDF).

Today, Tsatsaronis still runs a permit-services business out of a storefront on a quiet, tree-lined street in Astoria. The window of Effie’s, as the business is known, functions like a bulletin board for vendors – including those selling permits, as a recent visit by WNYC found.

“New Mobile Food Vendor Truck With Permit” said one. Another sign touted a “full-service lunch truck” including a two-year permit (no price given).

Tsatsaronis expressed surprise when a reporter pointed out these notices, which would seem to violate the city code forbidding the sale of permits.

“People put things in the window, I don’t check everything,” Tsatsaronis said, as she pulled down the flyers.

Tsatsaronis said the charges against her were eventually dropped, and that she was never prosecuted (the records of the case are sealed). And she said her work today is 100 percent legit: she works as an expediter, handling paperwork that can cut into the time vendors would otherwise spend on the street.

But she acknowledged the Department of Health’s current system of issuing permits is frustrating and “should be more systematic.”

Very Slowly, the City Responds

In a joint press release after the arrests, the Departments of Health and Investigation said they were discussing “improvements that would eliminate the criminal conduct found in the investigation, including the creation of a competitive, sealed bidding process to, in essence, replace the illegal payments with legal payments.”

WNYC recently asked the Health Department what changes have been made since the 2009 arrests. For weeks, the Department was silent.

On Wednesday, as this story was about to be published, the Health Department abruptly released new draft regulations covering permitting, among other things. Dan Kass, deputy commissioner for environmental health, conceded it’s a problem that longtime permit holders don’t need to show up in person to renew.

“We’re changing that,” Kass said. “We’re gonna require that the permit holder appear at least every two years, partly so that we can photograph them, we know who they are, to keep them close to the operation and to communicate that we fully expect them to be deeply involved in the operation of their cart as the law expects them to be.”

This could cut down on illegal transfers. But even Kass concedes it’s hard to eliminate a black market when the government limits the quantity of something valuable, and sets the price artificially low.

Song suggested the city raise the official price to reflect the street value and let the city collect that cash.

He reached for a calculator and did some quick math: $20,000 multiplied by 3,000 permits equals $60 million.

“That’s a lot of money,” Song said.

Song said he wanted to go public to draw attention to the issue, even if it meant putting the little Korilla food truck empire in jeopardy.

“That’s the risk that we take,” Song said. “Hopefully somebody will hear this, hopefully in the government, and would want to regulate and make a change in this industry. ‘Cause they’re leaving a lot of money on the table.”

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WNYC News

Broken Permitting System Forces Food Trucks Into Black Market

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Running a food truck may be the hippest job around. But there is a shadowy side to food trucks’ fun and quirky image. In order to get started, many of these gourmet trucks flout the law, and pay high prices to obtain black-market vendor permits. They say they have no choice.

Comments [9]

The Leonard Lopate Show

Food on the Move: The Food Truck Handbook

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Food trucks are expanding eating options all over New York. David Weber, founder and president of the New York City Food Truck Association (NYCFTA), Deborah Smith, owner of the Green Pirate Juice truck, and Jim Drew, owner of Phil's Steaks truck, discuss the growing mobile food movement. Weber’s book The Food Truck Handbook: Start, Grow and Succeed in the Mobile Food Business looks at the ins and outs of navigating in the industry.

Comments [27]

Features

Food in Two Worlds: Treats Truck Offers Passover Goodies

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Kim Ima’s Treats Truck offers sweets that are "kosher" for Passover not just once a year, but all year-round. Try a recipe for the Apple Passover Cake that has become a foundation of her Treats Truck here.

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Port Authority Audit To Focus on Pay, WTC; NYC Subways to Test Cell Service; Maryland Toll Hikes Mirrors National Trend

Friday, September 23, 2011

Top stories on TN:

NY Governor Cuomo's schedule shows few meetings on transit and transportation. (Link)

President Obama delivered an impassioned pro-infrastructure speech at an "obsolete" Ohio bridge. (Link)

An Amtrak power outage stranded hundreds of NJ Transit rail riders in a train tunnel for hours. (Link)

The World Trade Center site in late August 2011 (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

An audit of the Port Authority of NY and NJ -- a condition of recent toll hikes -- will look at ten years of spending and zero in on executive compensation and World Trade Center rebuilding costs. (The Star-Ledger, The Record)

NY's MTA will begin testing cell phone service on some subway platforms next week. (New York Times)

Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority employees and retirees could soon lose their free rides on the T. (AP via WBUR)

Trend alert: Tolls will soon double on some Maryland highways and bridges, as officials confront deteriorating infrastructure and a lack of funds for improvements. (Washington Post)

There's a Congressional showdown over a bill that would provide $1 billion in immediate funding for FEMA -- but offset that spending with cuts to a program that funds fuel-efficient vehicles. (The Takeaway)

Tunneling is complete for the first phase of NY's Second Avenue Subway line. (Wall Street Journal)

BART will replace its notoriously grimy cloth seats with brand-new, easy-to-clean seats much sooner than anyone thought. (The Bay-Citizen)

Food trucks parked outside NYC's Tavern on the Green will be hitting the road in October, their contracts unrenewed. (Crain's New York)

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: China Halts HSR Line, Atlanta's Suburbs May Finally Be Ready to Accept Mass Transit, and Happy Bike To Work Day

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bike to Work Day, 2010 (photo by greenperalta/Flickr)

Today is Bike to Work Day.

Atlanta's suburbs may finally be ready to embrace mass transit. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

China halted work on a high-speed rail line due to environmental concerns.  (Wall Street Journal)

The Guardian has an enormous amount of data about Britain's train stations. (The Guardian)

GM will increase Volt production, and plans to close a plant for a month to prepare. (AutoBlog)

Hear TN's Andrea Bernstein talk about how gasoline prices are affecting driving behavior on The Takeaway (and don't forget to participate in our survey on how gas prices affect YOU.)

Toronto's mayor is set to unveil his bike lane plan. (The Star)

New York City approved an increase in fines for cab drivers who break a wide range of rules — from being caught using a cell phone while driving to refusing to accept a credit card. (WNYC)

Food trucks -- so popular on the coasts -- are hitting legal roadblocks in the Midwest. (Changing Gears)

The DDOT won't be available to fill potholes after Saturday's 'Rapture.' (Fox News)

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

In case you missed it on Transportation Nation:

-- The Yankees paved paradise and put up a parking lot -- with public money (link)

-- it's not gas prices you have to worry about in Montana, it's snow...even in May (link)

-- NYC's dollar van program, meant to replace cut bus lines, is a total bust (link)

-- SF wants to make its taxis more efficient (link)

-- public transportation: it's good for you (link)

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