Columbus, OH: City Launches Pilot Program for Food Trucks

Tatohead Truck

By Gary Seman Jr. |  This Week Community News

Tatohead Truck
Tatohead Truck

After some grousing from local vendors, Columbus City Council passed legislation creating a food-truck pilot program, which went into effect June 12 in the Short North, Arena District and downtown.

According to the new rules, owners of food trucks must pay for a commercial sales license, and the trucks must pass inspections from the Division of Fire and Columbus Public Health, as well as a safety inspection from the Department of Public Safety’s licensing section.

As of Friday, June 14, of the 17 food-truck purveyors who applied for the licensing, five received their proper certification. The local food-truck industry consortium estimates roughly 50 vendors would be affected by the regulations.

Daniel McCarthy, owner of Tatoheads, was one of the vendors who passed the inspection. Early indications suggest things are going well, despite some anticipated rough patches, he said.

City Council delayed action on the legislation for two weeks because of complaints from the local food-truck industry.

Both the local food-truck industry and the city understand “there’s still a lot of work to be done,” McCarthy said.

“Technically, this is what we would call Phase One,” said McCarthy, a member of the Central Ohio Food Truck Association. “Overall, I think things are going well. It’s not a perfect science. We are creating a new paradigm.”

Amanda Ford, spokeswoman for the city’s department of public safety, said the city is trying to strike a balance between food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants, preserve valuable parking spots and protect the safety of consumers.

“In the past, we’ve gotten complaints about food trucks being parked at parking meters in front of other establishments,” Ford said. “Food trucks didn’t show up overnight, but we’ve gotten more and more of them, so it’s become an issue.”

The city has created 16 oversized spaces that can accommodate 23-foot-long trucks. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Those who attempt to set up in the pilot-program area without proper licensing face parking citations, Ford said. If they refuse to leave, police can impound the vehicle, she said.

City officials will use feedback from the pilot program to determine citywide legislation, which likely won’t be considered until next year, Ford said. She said she doesn’t expect there to be any significant changes to the pilot program in the next four to six weeks.

Right now, food trucks only need to pass a health inspection and purchase a commercial vending license if they operate in the public right of way, she said.