Food trucks create local flavor, regulation nightmares
The recent boom in food truck popularity has caused regulation headaches for municipalities across the country.
The National Restaurant Association reports that food trucks were responsible for nearly $650 million in revenue in 2012, and recent research released by the Intuit Network predicts food trucks will generate between 3 and 4 percent of total restaurant revenue, around $2.7 billion, by 2017.
The Intuit report also indicated that market share should jump to 3 or 4 percent in the next five years, indicating “food trucks are not a fad, but a viable market segment with significant competitive advantages over quick-serve, fast-food and take out food vendors.”
However, the popularity of food trucks is cause for concern in some municipalities, specifically regarding regulation. CitysSpeak.org, the National League of Cities' (NLC) official blog, says communities including Los Angeles and Philadelphia struggle with regulating mobile vending.
City ordinances regulating mobile vending were written decades ago, and apply more to ice cream trucks, hot dog carts and sidewalk vendors, according to CitysSpeak. Modern food trucks are equipped with state-of-the-art cooking, refrigeration and sanitation equipment, and outdated ordinances no longer apply.
Some cities are attempting to get ahead of the curve by passing legislation on the burgeoning businesses, but are being met with backlash from industry leaders and politicians. Washington D.C.’s Business Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee rejected a set of proposed regulations May 31, arguing the new laws would stunt the industry’s growth, according to a Washington Post report.
Committee Chairman Vincent B. Orange told the Post “[the industry] has established itself as a fixture in the vending business scene." He said he worries regulations regarding truck-free buffer zones and parking space lotteries will cripple the promising economic boom.
Che Ruddell-Tabisola, the Food Truck Association’s political director, was pleased with the decision and told the Post, “It’s a victory, really, for the city. All we want is regulations that are fair.”
While city-specific legislation is needed, the NLC recommends several rules of thumb for legislating food trucks. Based on findings from a George Washington University study on local policy options for food truck regulations, the NLC says cities should conduct town hall and private meetings with stakeholders, encourage dialogue among competing stakeholders, identify private, vacant lots where vendors can gather and designate public space for mobile vending.