by Garrett Quinn
If you haven’t read the report by City Councilors Mike Ross and Sal LaMattina I suggest you do now. It gives you a great snapshot of how regulations on the booming food truck industry vary across the country. Ross and LaMattina go over several major cities where food trucks are common like Los Angeles and places where they haven’t caught on like Chicago. From this report they culled what they think are the best regulations and practices around the country to ten suggestions. Some of them make perfect sense while others will restrict competition and create barriers to entry in the market.
Limiting clusters of trucks and curtailing access to areas where a food truck simply wouldn’t work is appropriate. As the report suggests “they form an imposing wall that blocks views and access to the block face and canyonizes the pedestrian realm.” Boston is a walking city and the concerns and well being of pedestrians should come before concerns about parking spaces and cars. Bidding out popular, high traffic locations is a reasonable proposal but a lottery or rotation system might work even better. Parking is already limited in many places in this town and replacing those parking spaces with food trucks needs to be addressed.
Sanitary and waste concerns are a big one because you can’t just dump waste water into a public street. There is a reason there are those warnings with fish over every storm drain. A plan for handling this waste needs to be in place and part of the licensing process.
Creating a level playing field for the trucks by creating equal access to serving locations and making the locations along with real time information available to the public for the creation of mobile apps is a great idea.
One of the key proposals suggested by the councilors is capping the number of food trucks at 25. This is a very low number that will likely be gobbled up established restaurants and limit the opportunities available to entrepreneurs. Plus, once the cap is reached the value of an individual food truck licenses will skyrocket the same way hackney licenses have. This will create another barrier to the market for entrepreneurs.
Severely limiting the proximity to other restaurants is unfair. Why should a brick and mortar establishment get prioritized? Let them fight it out in the market.
Near the middle of the list there is the suggestion a Chicago proposal to force food trucks to engage in community service is one that should be implemented by Boston. Forcing companies to participate in charitable or community service programs is not charitable and should not be a prerequisite for any occupational or business license.
There will be a form of licensing for food trucks enacted in Boston. The final regulations that are set should include common sense rules pertaining to health and sanitation as well as traffic and mobility while respecting the free market and entrepreneurial spirit.