Rules proposed for D.C. food truck vendors

March 9, 2013

For the second time in six months, the District has proposed a compromise in the battle between food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants over the rules that guide street vendors.

The proposed rules — the fourth attempt in recent years to update regulations that date back three decades — identify about two dozen locations that would serve as Mobile Roadway Vending zones, where food trucks could sell meals between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. without fretting about parking-meter time limits.

Food truck owners seeking those spots would pay $25 to enter a monthly lottery, and officials said as few as two or as many as more than five trucks would be selected for each zone each weekday. Under the rules, lottery winners would pay $150 per vehicle per month to park in the zones.

Vendors would be allowed to sell meals in some areas outside those zones, as long as they park in legal spots and abide by meter restrictions. But those trucks would have to be at least 500 feet from the vending zones. And in the Central Business District, where the majority of food trucks roam, there would have to be 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk adjacent to each truck.

Doug Povich, co-owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound DC truck and chairman of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington, said he is concerned that some of the regulations, which he had not read but which were described to him by a reporter, would unfairly curtail vending.

Taken together, he said, the proposed restrictions — including the limited spaces available in vending zones, the 500-foot buffer around those zones and the requirement for trucks to park where there is 10-feet of unobstructed sidewalk — would dramatically limit the areas available to vendors.

Last year, the food truck association conducted a survey of the prime vending locations in the central business district and determined the majority of them would be off-limits under the proposed sidewalk rule alone. Povich said he doesn’t know how locations outside that downtown area would be effected.

“We haven’t surveyed the entire city, but I can tell you that there are going to be places, in Friendship Heights for example, that are going to be a problem,” said Povich, who is also a telecommunications regulatory lawyer.

The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington declined to comment on the proposed rules until the group has time to review them.

As food trucks have become more popular, the city has aimed to create rules that balance the interests of truck owners and restaurants as they compete for hungry office workers at lunch. Restaurant owners say they generate far more revenue, employ more people and pay more taxes and fees, and it’s inherently unfair for mobile vendors to arbitrarily poach diners on their turf without some restrictions. Food trucks, by contrast, have invoked the free market; the people, they say, should be able to decide what options they have available for lunch, not the government.

The newest draft regulations also apparently remove some control over food trucks from the District Department of Transportation, whose proposed oversight and management of Mobile Roadway Vending locations had caused concern among food truck vendors after the city published the third round of regulations in October. Vendors had complained that there would have been too much control from one agency.

Under the latest suggested rules, each vending location would be proposed and ultimately managed by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. But each zone would still require DDOT’s review.

Povich said he is concerned DDOT would have the ability to reject a vending zone without public input or an appeal process.

Since the D.C. Council passed the Vending Regulation Act of 2009, city agencies have struggled to develop vending rules that work for all parties; city officials say it’s time to put regulations before D.C. Council for a vote.

Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), said that the city had received thousands of public comments at this point and that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and other agencies had put together regulations that strike the right balance.

Ribeiro emphasized that the regulations don’t just concern food trucks and restaurants; they concern consumers, tourists, mass transit operators and “people who drive into the city and look for parking spots.” It’s impossible to please all these groups, he said.

“Anytime you try to regulate something, it’s controversial,” Ribeiro said. “Someone is always going to be unhappy. . . . We feel like we’ve done a good job of balancing the interest of everyone involved here.”

Once the regulations reach the council, likely this week, the body will have 60 days to vote. A city official said the council can do several things: approve the regulations as is; reject them (or do nothing) and revert back to the old vending rules; or take out certain provisions. The council cannot add provisions.

The public comment deadline is at 5 p.m. April 8. Comments should be sent to Helder Gil, Legislative Affairs Specialist, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1100 Fourth St. SW, Room 5164, Washington, D.C. 20024, or to DCVending
Regs@dc.gov
.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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