Truck it in, Chapel Hill: Confusing Regulations Make Operating Food Trucks Difficult

By Editorial Board | The Daily Tar Heel

The Town of Chapel Hill looks like it is continuing the liberalization of regulations on food trucks within town limits.

Although the trucks — or “mobile food units,” as they are more officially known — are not banned outright in Chapel Hill, regulations are currently so confusing and prohibitive that they often act as an effective ban.

This board has been consistent in its support of food trucks in Chapel Hill, but a number of issues remain undecided.

We hope the town will not favor too-restrictive regulations that solely serve to protect traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants from increased competition.

There are already approximately 95 bars and restaurants in downtown Chapel Hill and they could serve as a sizeable lobby against food trucks.

Of course, students do not want to see more of Franklin Street’s restaurants go out of business, but late-night options can sometimes seem limited in an otherwise student-friendly town.

The rush in the few open restaurants at 2 a.m. in Chapel Hill could be alleviated and students’ options expanded if food trucks were allowed within town limits.

In Carrboro, it seems most food trucks are parked near bars at late hours, when many traditional restaurants are closed.

There is no good reason to prevent local entrepreneurs from starting innovative businesses that can satisfy the needs of a legitimate market.

The town just has to decide how to regulate this new industry.

Few would want sidewalks or all of Chapel Hill’s parking lots littered with food trucks, but the Town Council cannot legally establish quotas of food trucks within town limits, only the locations they are allowed to operate.

Opening hours, taxation rates and health and safety regulations must also be decided.

Food from trucks ought to be as strictly regulated as in their building-bound counterparts. Consumers should not have to sacrifice safety for the convenience and variety food trucks can offer.

The food truck movement is not just limited to Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Raleigh has similarly restrictive regulations on food trucks and is also considering moving to open up its streets to the mobile food units.

But other college towns like Durham and Athens, Ga., both have some version of food trucks.

And while traditional restaurant owners might be worried their monopoly on dining in Chapel Hill will be threatened, the reality is that food trucks will have to compete with them as well. Building a new customer base in Chapel Hill can be difficult for anyone.

Regardless, we hope Chapel Hill continues to move forward.

Let us eat!