Gypsy Hot Dog Vendors on the Horizon?

In Toronto, city officials have been waging a slow campaign against street hot dog vendors, many of whom, notes National Post columnist Kelly McParland, are “immigrants supporting families in the great Canadian tradition.” That a city government would go after such hard working people is bad enough. Now Toronto city officials are trying to smother the vendors in a blanket of paternalism. Says McParland:

Some time back, Councillor John Filion suggested tourists would appreciate a wider variety of street food, and championed a loosening of restrictions. It wasn’t a bad idea; though Filion was mainly interested in a healthier diet, there were obvious opportunities for Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Greek, Latino or other ethnic foods, not to mention vegetarian alternatives. Given Toronto is jammed with immigrants, suggestions wouldn’t have been hard to come by.

So what happens? The predictable: The city took Filion’s proposal and squeezed the life out of it. First it considered buying its own fleet of carts for $700,000 and leasing them out at $450 a month. Then it realized it would be more fun to stick the expense on the vendors, and came up with a plan to sell new carts to vendors for between $22,000 and $28,000. If they couldn’t afford to pay cash, they could lease the carts for $7,056 to $8,796 per year, at a minimum interest rate of 12.5%. For that outlay, a limited number of vendors would be allowed to sell something besides hot dogs. What exactly they could sell isn’t clear: the city wanted to spend five years — Five Years! — on a pilot project before bravely venturing onward.

Expensive and convoluted as this may seem, it is more politically viable than trying to ban hot dog vending outright, since that could provoke public sympathy for the vendors and anger at the city government. Just such a reaction occurred in Miami years ago, when that city tried to ban private buses, known as jitneys, on which many of the city’s poor residents relied for transport. To protest, the jitney drivers led a motorized protest in front of city hall. I wish Toronto’s hot dog vendors were to do something similar — picture hundreds of hot dog carts together taunting the politicians! (Thanks to Neil Hrab for the National Post link.)