Proposed amendments would save DC’s food trucks from excessive fines, overregulation

Tomorrow (June 18), after several years of negotiations, amendments, controversy and re-introductions, the D.C. City Council will finally vote on regulations that will govern the city’s growing food truck scene—but the current proposal, while better than previous versions, needs several improvements before the Council passes it.  The Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington is mobilizing supporters to back their amendments and save DC’s street food scene.

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Portions of the current proposal could cripple entrepreneurship.  For starters, food trucks that park at an expired meter could face $2,000 fines for a first-time offense.  From there on, fines would escalate quickly, reaching $4,000 for the second infraction, $8,000 for the third, and $16,000 onwards.  In D.C., this would be a Class 1 infraction, the same legal category as possessing explosives without a license

Instead, the Food Truck Association has proposed an amendment that would treat vending violations as Class 5 infractions, the same category that deals with parking and car violations.  If their amendment is enacted, food trucks would face much saner fines, starting with $50 for a first-time offense, $100 for the second offense, $200 for the third, and $400 onwards. 

Another point of contention lies with the proposed Mobile Roadway Vending (MRVs) locations.  An MRV is a location in the District where a limited number of lottery-assigned, designated spaces are made available to food trucks.  If a truck wins a spot, they pay a permit fee for that month and can vend in one spot for up to four hours.  Other food trucks may not operate within 200 feet of an MRV zone.

But under the current proposed regulations, there are no criteria to determine a MRV or remove legal, but lackluster,vending spots.  As a result, city officials would be free to create MRV Locations in a way that—because of the 200 foot barrier surrounding each of them—unnecessarily restricts the mobility of food trucks that choose not to pay to participate in the lottery.  Furthermore, there is a risk that bureaucrats could put MRV’s in spots where there are few or no customers. 

To that end, the Food Truck Association wants the city to set up MRVs only in a limited number of areas where there is a documented issue of sidewalk or parking problems that cannot be remedied through traditional enforcement activities, such as ticketing.   In addition, the Association wants a MRV to be dissolved if a quarter of the allotted parking spots go unused on a daily basis.  If that happens, then a substitute vending spot would be created.  The food trucks simply want clear, objective criteria for the city to use in establishing and eliminating these locations.

Finally, a food truck could only vend in a spot if there is 6 feet of “unobstructed sidewalk.”  Yet the new food truck ordinance never defines just what exactly an obstruction is.  The Association is backing an amendment that would exempt parking meters and trees from being considered “obstructions.”

Doug Povich, Food Truck Association Chairman and co-owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck, believes that the simple amendments the association has offered will remove ambiguity and confusion from the rules and give both city officials and food trucks clear guidance on how the rules are to be administered.  “Passage of these amendments is critical to ensuring that the rules are measurable and enforceable, ” he says.

Contact the D.C. City Council and tell them that you support the Food Truck Association’s amendments to the current food truck proposal.

UPDATE: The Food Truck Association’s amendment to reduce the fines to $50 for parking at an expired meter passed.  However, other parking violations (e.g. parking in a bus stop or in another food truck’s lottery-assigned spot) will still trigger a $2,000 fine for a first-time offense.  The Association was also able to pass its amendment defining obstructions, but it lost its proposal for criteria to properly designate vending locations.  The regulations now head to Mayor Vincent Gray, who has until Saturday to approve or reject them.  

 

-- Nick Sibilla

Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

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