The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Cities Declare War on Food Trucks

Food trucks have become the hottest new industry, yet many cities are doing everything they can to stop them in their tracks. In city after city, lawmakers are imposing complicated regulations on food trucks and other street vendors, often in the name of consumer safety, which make it nearly impossible for vendors to actually operate their trucks. Chicago’s regulations are particularly onerous, as Reason reports:

According to the Chicago Tribune, 109 would-be purveyors of mobile cuisine have applied for licenses, but the city hasn’t seen fit to OK any of them. Among the requirements they may be having difficulty meeting:

  • Ventilation requirements are similar to those in bricks and mortar kitchens. Complying will force the trucks to top 13 feet high, which makes them too tall to fit under some of the Windy City’s underpasses.
  • The trucks must also contract with a local commissary for wastewater and grease disposal. But those facilities are few and far between—some of the license seekers aren’t sure how to find them or even if they exist.

These requirements are sadly typical. A new piece in the Wall Street Journal details how a number of other cities are treading a similar path, drafting a byzantine system of regulations on street food vendors and imposing harsh penalties for those who fail to comply. What’s worse, though, is the rationale for these decisions, which often boils down to fears of “unjust” competition by brick-and-mortar enterprises:

The clash is one of a growing number between street vendors and cities across the country, including New York, Atlanta and Chicago. The tough economic climate has exacerbated tensions by prompting more peddlers to hit the streets, according to those involved on both sides of the issue. At the same time, the food-truck craze has prodded some cities to tighten laws governing mobile vending, partly in response to complaints from restaurants about unfair competition. [ . . . ]

Opponents . . . say the vendors operate with scant oversight, posing risks to public health, and poach customers from bricks-and-mortar businesses. The vendors consider the latter charge to be little more than economic protectionism.

This is pointless, self-destructive policy, not only because it’s keeping downtown office workers from delicious street food, but also because it makes it harder for small, undercapitalized entrepreneurs to employ themselves—exactly the kind of people cities should be helping, not hurting.

Published on January 22, 2013 7:19 pm