Food Truck Operators Call D.C.’s Parking-Meter Crackdown Unfair

DC's Basil Thyme Food Truck

By Timothy R. Smith | The Washington Post

DC's Basil Thyme Food Truck

For more than two months, the D.C. Department of Public Works has been cracking down on food trucks that have exceeded the city’s two-hour parking limit for metered spaces.

In October, the department created a rotating two-person unit to issue parking tickets to food trucks, according to a statement Thursday responding to questions e-mailed by The Post. The unit has issued 68 parking tickets to food trucks since it was created, the statement said.

“The DC Department of Public Works enforces parking regulations to encourage turnover in metered parking spaces so customers may reach District businesses and help residents to access parking spaces near their homes,” the agency said in the statement. “This enforcement is in response to strong competition for legal curbside parking and reflects the needs of residents, businesses and the motoring public.”

Kristi Whitfield, president of the D.C. Food Truck Association, said parking enforcement officers appear to be targeting food trucks while ignoring parking violations by other vehicles. She said she constantly hears complaints from vendors about the parking fines.

“No one is complaining about tickets that are fair, but that they are administering the law unevenly,” Whitfield said.

The fines for most trucks come three or more times a week, vendors said. Most disconcerting, vendors said, was that parking officers have issued tickets to trucks but have not looked at other meters in the area.

The stepped-up enforcement activities aimed at food trucks are taking place near Farragut Square, Franklin Square, Union Station, L’Enfant Plaza, the Navy Yard and Metro Center. At Metro Center, a parking enforcement officer was observed this week issuing a ticket to the Yellow Food truck before immediately driving off. Across the street, by the Macy’s department store, five cars were parked at expired meters, but none had been ticketed.

In its statement, the Departtment of Public Works said that if “expired meters were observed and no ticket was written, there is a 99.999% chance that the driver paid” his or her parking fee by cellphone.

Parking enforcement officers use a keypad to determine whether a meter was fed by phone.

“The two people in the unit are also looking at violations made by other vehicles as well,” said DPW spokeswoman Linda Grant.

Josh Saltzman, a co-owner of the PORC food truck, shot video of a parking officer getting out of her van, issuing a ticket to his truck, getting back in the van, driving two spots up, getting out, issuing another ticket to Dangerously Delicious Pies, then driving off. The parking officer did not stop at a silver Toyota parked at an expired meter. Saltzman said the Toyota had been parked there since before he arrived.

“What we’re asking for is fair and equitable treatment,” Saltzman said.

The tickets have gotten so frustrating that some vendors have suggested that food truck operators stop feeding the meters and just pay the tickets they receive.

But Brian Farrell, the owner of the Basil Thyme food truck, said he was not aware of anyone doing that. “To my knowledge, all the food trucks pay the meter,” he said.

On Dec. 15, Farrell stopped doing business for the day to file a complaint with the D.C. Inspector General’s office. In his complaint, Farrell cited two incidents earlier that week in which parking officers allegedly claimed that he had parked his truck 40 minutes earlier than he actually had.

Kevin Sizemore, who works on That Cheesecake Truck, had an encounter with a parking officer on Dec. 16, he said. While he was trying to leave a parking space by Farragut Square, Sizemore said, a parking officer drove up in a van, blocked him in so he could not get out of the space and then issued him a $25 ticket.

Saltzman, the co-owner of PORC, said he hoped the city would offer parking permits to food trucks under proposed regulations that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has drafted and the D.C. Council has yet to approve.

For a brief period, until 2007, the D.C. Department of Transportation offered annual parking permits to sidewalk vendors that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs had authorized. DDOT does not issue those parking permits to street vendors.

“The city of D.C. gave us a permit to do business. And then they’re going to fine us for parking?” Farrell said. “There seems to be a disconnect between regulations.”