As for many businesses, midtown Manhattan is the big leagues for New York’s famous ice-cream trucks, with streets full of sweet-toothed tourists willing to pay city prices for cones.
But parking in midtown is nearly nonexistent, so the ice-cream trucks routinely pull into illegal spots and then rack up countless tickets.
On Wednesday, the New York City launched a major crackdown, towing away dozens of trucks and accusing their owners of owing $4.5 million ($A6.4 million) in fines for roughly 22,500 unpaid parking and traffic violations.
The striking spectacle left a steamy midtown in a temporary ice-cream freeze-out and marked a new chapter in the city’s rich history of crackdowns over coveted Manhattan street-vending spots.
Ice-cream vendors and other food trucks routinely park illegally and simply absorb tickets as the cost of doing business.
But numerous ice-cream vendors – who owned or operated 76 trucks – worked out a strategy to dodge paying tickets for running red lights, using bus lanes and parking in crosswalks and in front of fire hydrants, city officials said.
In a civil complaint filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, the city cited outstanding fines from scofflaw operators who did business under corporations with sweet-sounding names that read like a family ordering dessert:
- Candie Land Ice Cream
- Ice Boyz
- Ice Mania
- Twirly Twirl Ice
- Twist Ice Cream
- Very Berry Ice
Behind the sugary names were corporations created as shell companies to hide assets from city finance officials seeking to collect overdue fines.
By constantly changing companies, operators could continue to re-register their trucks while eluding city officials.
The truck owners “sought to evade enforcement of our traffic laws through an elaborate shell game, transferring ownership of their ice cream trucks between and among dozens of phoney companies, effectively shielding their trucks from fines and seizure,” said Zachary Carter, the city’s corporation counsel.
The legal complaint released on Wednesday read like an ice-cream vendor crime wave, complete with a map of midtown, speckled with red dots appearing like sprinkles, to indicate summons locations.
City officials also released images of ice-cream trucks operating illegally in bus lanes and in no-standing zones in front of Manhattan landmarks such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Centre, Rockefeller Centre and St Patrick’s Cathedral.
In all, 34 of the 46 “worst offenders” were towed on Wednesday morning; the other 12 vehicles were being sought, officials said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the crackdown “marks the end of the road for these scofflaw ice cream vendors”.
One truck owner named in the complaint was Dimitrios Tsirkos, who was sued in 2013 by the Mister Softee company for imitating its trucks. Mr Tsirkos could not be reached for comment, and his lawyers did not returns calls.
While operating an ice-cream truck in less urban areas might simply mean pulling up to a park, ballfield or schoolyard, in midtown Manhattan it means contending with some of the tightest parking regulations around, an area the legal complaint calls “the most densely congested streets in New York City”.
And an area with strict rules for vendor parking – and hawkers and hucksters alike.
“No peddler, vendor, hawker or huckster shall permit his car, wagon or vehicle to stand on any street when stopping, standing or parking is prohibited,” city regulations state, according to the Department of Transportation.
As the number of food trucks has increased in recent years in midtown, parking tickets have become a crippling expense for some vendors, said Matthew Shapiro, legal director for the Street Vendor Project, an advocacy group with the Urban Justice Centre in Manhattan.
He said his group had been unable to get the city to allow food trucks to park in commercial zones or to designate permissible parking areas.
“There’s no viable place for food trucks to park in the city,” Mr Shapiro said. “The city cracks down on the trucks, but they refuse to look at this issue and find a way to allow these folks to park.”
Jeffrey Zucker, a long-time lawyer for Mister Softee, whose trucks were not named by the city’s action, called it common practice for some truck operators to try sidestepping tickets by reincorporating each winter and changing their truck registration.
He said Mister Softee required its franchisees to pay tickets promptly or risk losing the route.
“Getting tickets is part of the game in New York City,” Mr Zucker said, “but you have to pay them.”
-New York Times