Columbus, OH: Food Trucks Getting Street Parking Access – but No Guaranteed Spots

By Dan Eaton | Columbus Business Journal

File photo by Janet Adams | Business First Brian Reed, who owns the Mojo Tago food truck, says parking spaces on the street are nice, but reservations would be nicer.
File photo by Janet Adams | Business First
Brian Reed, who owns the Mojo Tago food truck, says parking spaces on the street are nice, but reservations would be nicer.
Columbus is set to open street parking spaces for food trucks, but getting those prime spots could be a fight.

The city is launching a pilot program, set to run from June 1 through the end of the year, aimed at promoting the growing food truck and food cart movement by designating specific parking spaces around town for mobile food vendors. The spaces will be marked with silver stars (download the locations here).

Food truck operators have been clamoring for the chance to sell from the street because regulations do not permit street sales, forcing them to make arrangements with private businesses and lots for parking space.

There is a catch, however, in the eyes of the Central Ohio Food Truck Association. The proposed spaces are first-come, first-served and open to not just food trucks, but push carts, trailers, ice cream trucks and the general public. That means a spot approved for a food truck could easily be occupied by someone’s car.

“For us to hope we get a space is no way to do business,” Association President Brian Reed told me. “I’m not sure how many of us would leave an established route. That’s just not that enticing for us to roll the dice on.”

The city is hosting a public meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday night at Columbus City Hall to discuss the program and a one-day workshop May 18 for vendors to get licensed at its fleet management building at 4211 Groves Road.

Reed, who operates Mojo TaGo, said he can see some benefit for new vendors who may not have many relationships or locations, but doubted many established trucks would participate in the program. Key to the business is the ability to tell customers where the truck will park. Not having a reserved space makes trying to get them a gamble.

“We can’t say we’re going to be there, then not get the space,” he said. “We can’t say if we’re not there, here’s plan B, or if we’re not there here’s plan C. We can’t drive around the block.”

He said a reservation system is something he thinks vendors would be willing to pay for and could be a future revenue stream for the city.

Councilwoman Michelle Mills stressed this is a pilot program.

“This will give us real data and experiences,” she said. “We want the business to grow.”

The goal is to run the program through the end of the year, gather feedback from the mobile vendors, other businesses and the public and then figure out permanent legislation.

The initial list of parking spaces has 19 locations downtown, in the Short North and around Park Street and the Arena District, with more to be added in Harrison West, Clintonville, near Ohio State University and on the Near East side. A full list is expected by May 18.

The program is the result of discussion between the city, vendors and others. To participate, trucks and vendors must obtain a Temporary Mobile Food Vendor License from the city.

Reed said the association appreciates the city’s work and willingness to address the mobile food community’s needs, despite some disagreements.

“I think the city has done a very good job putting this together in a short period of time,” he said. “Overall we’re really encouraged.”