D.C.'s Overpriced, Mediocre Sandwich Shops Have Had It With Food Trucks

ByWilliam Smith

Eating in the nation’s capital is about to become much less convenient and enjoyable unless D.C.-area residents stand up and show their support for the area’s thriving food-truck industry. Rules proposed by Washington, D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and supported by Mayor Vincent Gray threaten to greatly increase the obstacles facing food trucks. Should these proposals become law, many areas of the city will likely see dramatic reductions in dining options. Vendor after vendor believe that these rules will force them to shut down, and in fact, members of the D.C. Food Truck Association warn that these regulations could completely kill the industry.

The rules all have the effect of limiting the areas in which food trucks can park and serve food. One rule would forbid food trucks from operating on streets with less than 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk, though the regulations never clearly define what counts as an obstruction.

Another rule would allow the city to determine both the number of trucks and locations where serving is allowed. To serve in one of these “Mobile Vending Locations,” food trucks will have to win a monthly lottery; losers could not sell within 500 feet of these locations. The number of trucks and locations would apparently be determined by the District Department of Transportation and enforced by a DDOT-created Mobile Roadway Vending Association.

This map shows the areas in which food trucks would (likely) not be allowed in red:

The rules are being promoted in the name of protecting public safety, but it’s hard to see exactly how they accomplish this. A more plausible explanation is that the regulations are an attempt to appease restaurant owners and the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. These groups stand to benefit from shutting down the competition food trucks pose, with their ability to offer a wide variety of food in a fast, convenient manner. In fact, the president of the RAMW, Kathy Hollinger, wants a limit of four to six trucks at parks.

There are legitimate concerns involving food trucks, namely food safety and how to allocate the available space amongst the trucks. But these heavy-handed, clumsy, vague regulations, to be enforced by an unaccountable bureaucratic body, are not the way to deal with these issues.

As this video explains, D.C.’s food truck owners and workers are ordinary, hardworking Americans who benefit our community in numerous ways. Food trucks are quintessentially American: highly entrepreneurial, they embody freedom, convenience, innovation, and blending different cultures. Of all the cities in this country, food trucks ought to be most at home in our nation’s capital. But if the supporters of these regulations have their way, they could disappear.

Fortunately, food truck fans still have a chance. The D.C. Food Truck Association has launched a letter drive to voice their opposition to the regulations; the letter can be found at http://savedcfoodtrucks.org/action/. If you care about good food, the vibrancy of our capital city, the men and women who work tirelessly to serve others the food they love, or the time-honored American values of equal opportunity, hard work, innovation, and small business, tell Mayor Gray and the D.C. Council that Washingtonians won’t swallow these rules.