Following a sometimes heated meeting with the District Department of Transportation on Monday to try to clarify the latest round of proposed vending regulations , the DC Food Trucks Association has determined the rules are too vague and that they give DDOT too much authority over the future of street vending in Washington.
“The proposed regulations give DDOT sweeping new powers to determine where food trucks can and cannot be,” Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the food truck association, told All We Can Eat.
“The rules are vague, they’re unreasonable and an unbalanced effort by regulators who do not understand how food trucks operate, but yet they want to control it,” the executive director said.
Further, he continued, Alice Kelly, DDOT’s policy branch manager, said Monday that “they have the best of intentions.”
“However, we can’t evaluate policy based on intentions. You have to judge policy based on writing, and based on that, these proposed regulations have one ultimate outcome: It’s harming food trucks and our customers by making it harder for trucks to go where the customers are.”
The association’s position came about 24 hours after dozens of food truck owners showed up for a Monday night meeting, hoping for clarifications on a number of proposed regulations. Among their concerns, truck owners wanted to know exactly how DDOT will assign and manage so-called Mobile Roadway Vending locations, which will allow at least three trucks to vend for four hours, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., on weekdays. (At present, food trucks must leave a parking space after the meter expires, whether at one or two hours, but many operators just keep feeding the meter in violation of local law.)
Food truck operators also wanted more definition on a proposed rule that requires at least 10 feet of “unobstructed sidewalk” space next to a metered parking spot in the Central Business District in order to vend there.
At the meeting, Doug Povich, who is co-owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound D.C. truck and a telecommunications regulatory lawyer, fired questions at Kelly and Matthew Marcou, deputy associate director of DDOT’s Public Space Regulation Administration, about the rules around MRV locations. Povich wanted to know, for example, if DDOT creates a MRV location on a street around Farragut Square would that designation then prohibit trucks from using the other, non-MRV parking spaces on the block? (The proposed regs appear to allow trucks to use any legal parking space in the city as long as operators follow the time limits and other rules.)
“I do not know the answer to that,” Marcou said in response.
Kelly then chimed in: “I can tell you the intent is ‘no.’ That if there is an established [MRV] zone, then what is the point of having an established zone if anybody can park anywhere else on that same side of the block?”
Povich then wondered whether DDOT would allow trucks to vend from a legal space if there were a parking meter located 1 1/2 feet from the curb, which would essentially create an “obstruction” on a 10-foot-wide sidewalk. Marcou said no, that parking space would be off-limits, although he suggested such a space could still be deemed a Mobile Roadway Vending location.
“Now, if you’re asking us to establish a Mobile Roadway Vending location there, that’s an interesting opportunity for us to look at,” Marcou said. “But I’m not going to sit here and say that you’ve established an 8 1/2-foot unobstructed sidewalk, will that meet these [regulations]? The answer is, I think on its face, ‘no.’ ”
“It is my objective. It is Alice Kelly’s objective to establish Mobile Roadway Vending locations in those areas that you are already using, including Farragut [Square], Franklin [Square], et cetera,” Marcou continued. ”So I hope that goes some way toward assuaging your concerns. We’re saying that in an open public forum with scores of vendors here.”
It apparently didn’t assuage many concerns over at the DC Food Trucks Association.
“Mayor [Vincent] Gray is proposing to limit the number of food trucks where they’re most popular and intentionally eliminate food trucks from large swaths of downtown,” executive director Ruddell-Tabisola told All We Can Eat. “District residents and workers are the losers under this proposal because it only results in fewer choices at lunchtime and less competition for their businesses.”
“The proposed language to ban vending wherever there’s less than 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk is vague,” the executive director continued. “It’s open to multiple interpretations, and only a limited number of food trucks would be allowed to serve lunch in some of the most popular locations.”
The association is also objecting to the city’s plan to limit food trucks to one side of a block at MRV locations. To the Ruddell-Tabisola’s mind, the rule makes little sense in locations such as 21st Street and Virginia Avenue NW, where “there are no brick-and-mortar restaurants.”
“By bringing food to that area, we are reducing overall city congestion because we’re reducing the need for those District workers to get into a car or get into a taxi and travel for lunch,” he said.
Overall, the executive director said, “we’re just seeking fair and reasonable rules that balance the need of the District while preserving consumer choices.”
However, as Kelly repeatedly mentioned at Monday night’s meeting, these are still just proposed rules. She said she expects DDOT will work with vendors on a number of revisions to the regulations. But she issued a caution to the assembled vendors.
“I don’t mean to be harsh, but as the government, it is not our requirement that we provide a safe spot for you all to make a living every single day. That's just not what we’re doing. We’re trying to balance competing needs.”
“I’ll be very honest,” she adds, “As much as we might love food trucks, we are not in the business of doing your business. We’re in the business of protecting the public space for all users and ensuring that the transportation network for everybody — whether it’s bikes, bus riders or walkers — is safe and everybody has access to it. I admit it, there will be friction here. At the end of this, if everybody around this table is happy, then I feel like we, as regulators, have done something wrong. I sort of figure if we can make everybody a little bit less unhappy and kind of get to that sweet spot, that’s what we’re looking for.”