Pittsburgh, PA: Food truck rules will change before the end of the year

Larry Roberts/Post-gazette.. Dave White completes his order with one of Franktuary's owners, Megan Lindsay, at the Franktuary truck.

By Melissa McCart  |  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Larry Roberts/Post-gazette..  Dave White completes his order with one of Franktuary's owners, Megan Lindsay, at the Franktuary truck.
Larry Roberts/Post-gazette..
Dave White completes his order with one of Franktuary’s owners, Megan Lindsay,
at the Franktuary truck.

Mayor Bill Peduto will sign into law legislation passed by Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday that will update the legal framework for food trucks, allowing mobile vendors to park in metered spaces for a significantly longer stretch.

Spokesman for Mayor Peduto, communications manager Tim McNulty said he will sign the bill between tomorrow and sometime next week. The new laws would take effect immediately.

Pittsburgh city council voted 7-2 in favor of the bill introduced by Councilman Dan Gilman earlier this month. Councilwoman Darlene Harris and Councilman Daniel Lavelle voted against it.

The current rules require that food trucks move from metered spaces every 30 minutes, while the new ordinance will allow food trucks to park in those spaces for as long as four hours, provided their license is current and they have passed Allegheny county health inspection.

Interested vendors can apply for permits, which will cost $1,200 a year, at the city’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections office. How soon they’ll become available and the turnaround time for processing has not yet been determined.

“It’s great to see politicians at work to help transform this city in small ways that will make it a little more interesting to live in,” said James Rich, proprietor of PGH Taco Truck.

Mr. Rich, who rolled out his food truck in January 2013, has been an outspoken advocate for changes in legislation.

“For me, that means being able to do what I’ve been doing for three years without looking over my shoulder,” he said.

Not everyone is pleased by the impending changes.

“Food trucks provide variety and convenience in areas or at events that lack good dining options. They also cast Pittsburgh in a more cosmopolitan light,” said Herky Pollock, executive vice president of commercial real estate firm CBRE and a partner in Burgatory.

He pointed out that under the updated ordinance, food trucks would be able to park right in front of a similar business or restaurant, undercutting prices because they have lower labor costs, start-up costs and utility costs. And they don’t pay rent.

“Imagine, if you would, if a hot dog truck were to open directly in front of Franktuary or a bakery truck directly in front of Prantl’s or a pizza truck in front of Mineo’s or a burger truck in front of Burgatory,” he said. “It simply is not fair or equitable that an establishment has substantial overhead and yet the competition can simply drive up and park.”

“I received dozens of emails and petition signatures from restaurant owners in support of the legislation, said Mr. Gilman. “I would hope all food truck operators would be considerate of other business owners and work with both brick and mortar restaurants and other food trucks to make sure that all businesses can thrive.”

“The perception goes both ways, that one is easier than the other,” said Tim Tobitsch, partner in Franktuary, with locations in Market Square and Lawrenceville, who, with his partner, Megan Lindsey, rolled out the Franktuary truck in 2010.

“The way they operate is very different,” he said. “The only similarity is that they both sell food.”

He pointed out that food trucks don’t have seats, heat or air conditioning and that they have a limited amount of food compared to a restaurant.

He said his company’s food truck helps build the Franktuary brand. And sales are better when the truck changes locations rather than parking in the same spot every day.

“Food trucks play a similar role as a competing restaurant next door,” he said. “If a restaurant’s product is good, it should not have a problem attracting customers.”

He cited “the gas station effect,” comparing gas stations clusters on certain intersections to restaurant rows.

Because restaurants are clustered together, sales are higher. He said he sees it in Lawrenceville and hopes to see it in the newly-opened Franktuary in Market Square.

“People know to go to Lawrenceville for food now,” he said. “So with Franktuary next to Coca Cafe and Piccolo Forno, our proximity to each other benefits all of us.”