New York’s Capital District Food Trucks

One of the greatest advantages to owning a food truck is the mobility. Not only can food trucks plan routes cutom-fitted for their clientele, but they also advertise their business by simply driving around densely populted areas.  But in New York’s Capitol District, food truck owners cannot harness this mobility due to the tangled web of harmful  laws imposed on them from four different government bodies.

Four major cities make up New York‘s Capital District: Albany, Troy, Schenectady, and Saratoga Springs. The region functions as a single market and metropolitan area, but the name “Capital District” is a bit misleading. Each of these cities belongs to a different county and therefore falls under different legal jurisdictions. This is nothing short of a nightmare to mobile business owners.

Food trucks wishing to operate in Albany, Troy, Schenectady, and Saratoga must apply for a permit in each city, repeating almost the exact same process four times. But it would take a miracle for a food truck owner to receive a permit in all four cities. Currently, the city clerks’ offices in Albany and Troy refuse to issue new permits because all of the designated spots are spoken for. This presents massive barriers to entry as new competitors cannot enter the marketplace, leaving customers with both higher prices and fewer options. For instance, Troy only provides four designated spots for food trucks in the entire city, disposing of any hope for creating a competitive marketplace.

If a new food truck owner would like a permitted spot they will have to wait for a current permit holder to give up their spot, which seldom happens. Not to mention, permits can be pricey. While most permits in the area range from $125-$500 per year, a food truck owner lucky enough to take control of a spot in Albany would need to purchase a permit for an outrageous $2,170 per year.

Another law that plagues these entrepreneurs is a proximity ban, which prohibits food trucks from operating within a certain distance of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. In Schenectady, a food truck owner must park at least 250 feet from any brick-and-mortar restaurant. But in Saratoga, they must avoid places known as “transects,” where both commercial and residential structures are allowed and encouraged.

Clearly, a mix of office buildings and apartments presents a prime location for food trucks, but when asked in a phone interview about the reasoning for this part of the law, Dan Cogan, Saratoga’s Code Enforcement Officer, agreed that it is more of an all-encompassing proximity ban meant to stop food trucks from competing with established restaurants.

Regulating a competing industry to protect restaurants from competition actually harms the restaurant industry by reducing the competition that forces businesses to constantly improve and adapt; it also robs brick-and-mortar establishments of the valuable foot traffic generated by food trucks.

So what does all this mean to food truck owners in the Capital District? Owner and head chef for “Slidin’ Dirty,” a food truck operating mainly in Troy, explained that “There are a lot of cities where food trucks are a staple. We’d like to bring that here.” But that’s easier said than done. On top of four permits to apply and pay for yearly, four city codes to remember, and the hard work and stress that goes with running a food truck, the current laws in the New York Capital District make it impossible for its food truck owners to operate in more than one or two cities at the same time.

These intrusive laws harm consumers and make it nearly impossible for food trucks to exercise their right to economic liberty. IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative and activism efforts will not stop until food truck entrepreneurs nationwide are free to earn an honest iving and pursue their dreams as they see fit. City councils in the Capital District should enact legislation to steamline their permitting processes and throw out their protectionist, anti-competitive regulations in order to foster a thriving food-truck scene that will benefit the communites it serves.

— Phil Applebaum
Phil Applebaum is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice

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