There are still no prices posted on many food carts throughout the city despite a crackdown prompted by an I-Team investigation, a follow-up probe has found.
The city pledged to crack down on rogue vendors after an I-Team report last month on vendor Ahmed Mohammed, who was captured on camera selling $30 hot dogs to outraged tourists. Mohammed was fired, and the vendor who replaced him was later caught selling franks at varying prices, too.
At the time, the city vowed to step up its efforts to enforce a law that requires prices be posted on food carts. The I-Team followed a city inspector on a recent inspection and found that prices still were not posted on many food carts despite that vowed crackdown.
The city inspector visited 28 foot carts over a few hours and issued five violations for not posting prices. So far this year, the city has conducted nearly 300 inspections and issued 57 such violations.
The I-Team’s own survey, also conducted over a few hours, found even more vendors not posting prices. Walking around midtown and up Fifth Avenue near Central Park, the I-Team found 66 of 96 vendors failed to post prices.
When prices were not visible, vendor excuses ran the gamut. Some vendors blamed the weather, saying the rain washed the prices off the cart. Others say steam from the cart “messed up the price.” One vendor said he charges extra for ketchup and mustard and that’s why his hot dogs cost more than the prices on his list, which are displayed on the back of his cart.
New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin says 50 inspectors are working the vendor crackdown. Though they have other businesses to inspect besides food carts, Menin says “all 50 inspectors are out there again all the time on patrol. They’re all looking for this particular issue.”
The city says that since the crackdown started this month, 181 carts have been inspected and 39 vendor violations have been issued. That equates to fewer than one violation per inspector.
“You don’t want to the violation rate to be high because that means people are flagrantly violating the law,” says Menin.
A source at the Department of Consumer Affairs speculated it's possible that when an inspector starts to write tickets, word gets around to other vendors in the area who may quickly put up their price lists to avoid fines, even though they don't normally have them up. It's not clear if that's the case, the source said, but offered that as a potential explanation for why the I-Team, which clearly wasn't handing out tickets or dressed as city workers, found more violators than the city did.
Fines for violations start at $25 for the first offense. Vendors do not seem terribly worried by the crackdown. When vendor Don Mohadin was asked whether he was mad about getting a fine, he said, “No, this is a game.”
Menin says anyone who notices a vendor not posting prices should call 311.
The I-Team found a record of a 311 call dating back to May that complained about the ground zero vendor the I-Team reported on who was charging $30 for a hot dog. The Department of Consumer Affairs said it reached out to the consumer for more information, but the complaint was closed after the consumer did not respond. It was entered into the system with an inspection request.
The Department of Consumer Affairs inspected the area last week as part of the enforcement sweep, but the vendor in question wasn't there, the city said. The department visited the location again Tuesday and issued a warning, the agency said.