By Lucas Sullivan | The Columbus Dispatch
Because of complaints from food-truck owners about Columbus’ plan to regulate the popular mobile restaurants, public-safety officials are delaying the start of the program and considering more changes.
Truck owners say the 18 to 20 metered parking spots the city planned to make available on a first-come, first-served basis are not enough and would create a hostile environment among owners scrambling for the spots.
The city is trying to balance allowing the trucks in already cramped areas such as the Short North, Arena District and Downtown while maintaining public safety and not hurting surrounding businesses.
A pilot program was to have been in place by June 1, but the latest back and forth with owners has led to at least a two-week delay to develop new ideas.
The popularity of the culinary cruisers has exploded in the past few years, with an estimated 150 or more of the trucks in the city.
City officials say regulating the trucks is necessary because of complaints from residents and business owners who said some trucks were leaving behind trash, creating noise and parking outside brick-and-mortar restaurants. At the same time, food-truck owners have complained that the city’s commercial sales-license policy is too difficult to understand.
Councilwoman Michelle Mills is leading the charge for regulation that appeases food-truck owners but, she said, “My No. 1 priority is public safety and protecting our residents.”
“There has to be some things that we have to say no to,” she said. “We absolutely want to support the food-truck industry, and it is a huge part of our tour-ism industry here, so we have to strike a balance.”
The city’s pilot program includes the following provisions to operate on city-owned property:
• Trucks have to obey time limits at the meters.
• Public spaces must be vacated by 3 a.m. every day.
• Trucks cannot be longer than 25 feet.
• Owners must obtain a temporary sales permit.
Some owners want the city to reserve the metered spots just for food trucks during certain hours of the day. Mills said the city is considering that.
William Hunt, co-owner of the Pickled Swine truck, said the limited number of spots would open “ the doors for extortion” with someone parking a car in a spot and then forcing a truck owner to pay them to move.
Mills said that would be against the law and told food-truck owners to report such activity to police if it ever occurs.
Brian Reed, the owner of Mojo TaGo food truck and president of the Central Ohio Food Truck Association, said, “Some food-truck owners feel the city should implement a reservation system so we can let our customers know where we will be and we know how much food to prepare.”
“We are not that sophisticated yet to do a reservation system,” Mills said, “ but we have heard these concerns, and we are going to be as responsive as we can.”
Laura Lee, the owner of Ajumama food truck, said the city’s requirement that trucks be no longer than 25 feet would disqualify her from using the public spaces.
“I wish the city would reconsider that,” she said.
Public-safety officials said trucks longer than 25 feet would impede drivers’ line of sight and hang over into crosswalks because most of the proposed metered locations are on street corners.
Food-truck owners are not required to participate in the pilot program, but only those who register can use metered locations. They can bypass some of the regulations by doing business on private property.