New York City has voted to ban cashless businesses because it is ‘elitist’ and 12 percent of the city’s residents don’t have bank accounts. The City Council passed a bill late last month that will make cashless-only policies illegal across the city and hit businesses with hefty fines of $1,000 to $1,500 if they fail to accept cash payments from customers. Lawmakers approved the legislation, first introduced by Council member Ritchie Torres in November 2018, by a 43-3 margin.
Cashless restaurants and stores have been springing up of late across the city, with supporters saying it helps prevent theft, speeds up the checkout process and is more innovative. Sweetgreen, the salad restaurant chain, went cashless in 2017 but found that this ‘had the unintended consequence of excluding those who prefer to pay, or can only pay, with cash’. By the end of 2019 it had reintroduced cash payments to all of its restaurants. Salad store Chopt is one of the NYC eateries that dropped cash transactions.
New York City Council passed a bill, first introduced by Council member Ritchie Torres that will make cashless-only policies illegal across the city.
Dos Toros Taqueria restaurant chain currently does not accept cash payments. Its founder Leo Kremer said in City Council testimony last year that cashless payments are more ‘seamless’ and that since moving to cashless transactions, the business had cut down on firing or punishing workers over cash discrepancies.
However, critics slammed the move to cashless stores as ‘elitist’ and said that it marginalizes many residents. Torres said that New York people should have a right to choose.
“Consumers should have the right to choose if they want to pay in cash or not,” he said. “We are reining in the excesses of the digital economy.”
In the introduction for the motion prior to the vote, Rafael L Espinal, chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing, said he wanted to ‘draw attention to some unintended consequences of cashless technologies’.
“In a modern financial hub like New York City it might be easy to assume everyone has easy access to banking facilities and technologies that allow cashless transactions – unfortunately this is not the case,” he said.
Espinal said that cashless-only stores are marginalizing disadvantaged groups, because many residents in New York don’t have access to a bank account. “In 2013 close to 12% of the city’s population were completely unbanked,” said Espinal. “Not having a bank account is linked to poverty.”
And while some groups were critical of the bill passed arguing that it would inconvenience restaurants that have to start accepting cash, even they acknowledge that the unbanked issue is one that needs solving.