New food trucks continue to hit the streets of Knoxville, Tenn., despite the city’s current regulations that prohibit these entrepreneurs from parking on city streets—instead relegating them to operate in the lots of other private businesses.
Edwin Wong, owner of Petro’s truck, hopes that the city will change its laws soon to allow him and other entrepreneurs to better serve their customers: “Maybe if [customers] have a consistent location or spot where they can be on the lookout, they won’t have to chase the truck.”
Food-truck owners have expressed dismay at the reluctance on the part of other businesses to welcome them to the marketplace. Wes Walker, owner of the Farm to Taco food truck, asserts that “the one thing that’s been the most frustrating to him is the lack of support from the business community,” stressing that when he went to the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce to inquire about setting up a small business, “it quickly became clear the Chamber didn’t want that presence downtown.”
Luckily for both Walker and Wong, some local officials are beginning to consider reforming the city’s harsh parking regulation in light of the rising demand for local food truck cuisine. Downtown coordinator Rick Emmett has promised to present a new ordinance before City Council this spring that would overturn the city-wide parking ban.
Emmett has also revealed that the council is “working on finding some locations that will work for [food truck operators] that maybe will not compete with existing restaurants.”
But regulations based on protecting one type of business from another type of business are unconstitutional. As affirmed by the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes Tennesee) in Craigmiles v. Giles, “protecting a discrete interest group from economic competition is not a legitimate government enterprise.” The Knoxville City Council would be wise to heed the Constitution while considering new ordinances.
Moreover, protectionism would only serve to suppress economic activity in Knoxville. As detailed in Food Truck Freedom, protectionist regulations “stifle entrepreneurship, destroy jobs and hurt consumers both by raising prices and by giving them fewer choices.” Doesn’t seem like something citizens of Knoxville would be thrilled about.
While Emmett’s plan to lift the food-truck parking ban on downtown streets is certainly a move in the right direction, Knoxville city officials should leave prejudicial protectionism out of the proposed regulations and instead adopt a diet of healthy competition (and of course, delicious food truck fare).
— Robert Fountain
Robert Fountain is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice