A Taco Truck on Every Corner? Not in Chicago.

How Chicago’s Restaurant Proximity Regulations Make It Nearly Impossible to Operate a Food Truck

On Wednesday, Chicago’s food trucks will finally get their day in court when a Cook County Circuit Court Judge will hold a summary judgment hearing in a lawsuit challenging the city’s anti-competitive food truck regulations. The lawsuit, filed more than three years ago, challenges the city’s ban on operating a food truck within 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant and its requirement that food trucks install GPS tracking devices that broadcast their every move.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says his “administration is committed to creating the conditions and opportunities that will allow this industry [food trucks] to thrive, create jobs and support a vibrant food culture across Chicago.” But actions speak louder than words, and a new analysis of data obtained through the lawsuit finds that the city’s protectionist “200-foot rule” makes it nearly impossible for food trucks to operate within Chicago’s North Loop business district—the prime location for food trucks serving lunch.

According to the analysis, food trucks can legally park and operate on just 3 percent of the district’s curbs. And many of the few remaining parking spaces are nowhere near the Loop’s high-density population areas.

Click to download the report

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“Chicago’s prohibition on parking near restaurants is protectionism, plain and simple,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Robert Frommer. “By prohibiting parking near restaurants, the city has effectively put the Loop off limits to food trucks. This sort of blatant protectionism flatly violates the Illinois Constitution, and that’s why the Illinois Supreme Court has struck down proximity restriction like the 200-foot rule.”

The fines for violating Chicago’s 200-foot rule are up to $2,000—over ten times higher than for parking in front of a fire hydrant. And to enforce the rule, the city forces food trucks to install GPS tracking devices that broadcast their every move.

“Food truckers are honest businessmen and women, not criminals,” said IJ Attorney Erica Smith. “But the city’s GPS scheme requires the food trucks to share their private location information with anyone who wants it.  This warrantless surveillance scheme is unconstitutional and the Court should bring it to an end.”

Wednesday’s hearing is expected to be the culmination of a three-year-long lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the city’s food truck regulations. The lawsuit, which was filed by Laura Pekarik, who operates Cupcakes for Courage, argues that Chicago cannot protect restaurants from competition and that the GPS requirement constitutes an illegal search under the Illinois Constitution.

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