Council legislation attempts to resolve food truck free-for-all

Food truck
An employee straightens up at the Squeeze food truck on Wall Street (Credit: Aaron Adler)

New York’s food trucks offer up an amazing variety, from waffles and cupcakes to schnitzel and Korean tacos.

But as their numbers have expanded in recent years, complaints have started coming in from both brick-and-mortar businesses and residents.

“Food trucks have become popular in many corners of the city, but most of them are operating illegally,” either by vending from metered spots or by not following existing parking laws, Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick told Metro.

He further pointed out that when multiple trucks line up, “You get essentially a wall of commercial activity in the street, which can change the character of a neighborhood.”

In an attempt to resolve the free-for-all, Garodnick introduced a bill last month that would create special parking spots just for food trucks. No more than one truck would be allowed per block, and at least half of the spots would be outside Manhattan.

“They are an inexpensive food option and have even become a gourmet experience in some cases,” Garodnick said. “So we’re trying to set forth rules that allow the trucks to operate with some certainty but also protect communities.”

The bill set the maximum number of food truck spots at 450. However, Garodnick called that number merely “a discussion starter.”

“I am certain the bill will be revised to increase the number of spaces,” said David Weber, president of the NYC Food Truck Association, who explained that it was drafted before city officials testified that there were about 530 food trucks in the five boroughs.

Weber added that the current rules were so outdated that they used words like “hawker” and “huckster.” As a result, he supported the idea of legislation.

“New York City has the best culinary talent in the country and the most dense and active streets,” he said. “There is no reason we shouldn’t have the country’s best street food.”

Other stakeholders likewise believe that something must be done, although they disagree on the specifics.

At a hearing last month, a representative from the mayor’s office backed the “broader intentions” of Garodnick’s bill, but said it needed a “strong enforcement component.”

The mayor’s office made a number of suggestions, including that food trucks bid for the right to certain street locations, that they switch over to cleaner fuels and more environmentally friendly packaging materials, and that they be responsible for the cleanliness of their immediate vicinity.

Meanwhile, Monica Blum, president of the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District, said the bill should also address the roughly 4,500 food carts on the city’s streets.

“I don’t think you can consider one independent of the other,” Blum said. “If you regulate only the trucks you can still have nine food carts along one block.”

She expressed concern that mobile food vendors were unfairly competing with brick-and-mortar businesses.

“What currently happens now is that, quite frankly, mobile food trucks park directly in front of our quick-serves,” Blum said. “And we don’t feel that’s appropriate.”

Nonetheless, she acknowledged that food trucks serve a need. “There’s no doubt that many people like them,” she said.


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