D.C. Officials to Decide Fate of Local Food Trucks

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · March 1, 2012

Arlington, Va.—Today at 5:00 p.m., the District of Columbia will close to the public its comment period on its most recent proposed vending regulations for the District. According to the Institute for Justice (IJ), the regulations, if adopted, will be among the most restrictive in the entire country.

“Implementing the proposed regulations would cripple the District’s vibrant food truck industry,” said IJ attorney Robert Frommer. “If enacted, these regulations would eliminate food trucks from eight of the city’s ten most popular vending locations.”

As outlined in IJ’s comments to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, there are two particularly problematic aspects of the proposed regulations. First, they would not allow food trucks to park on any street in the Central Business District where the adjacent, unobstructed sidewalk is less than ten feet wide. This requirement would make it illegal for food trucks to serve their customers at most of the popular operating areas throughout the District. Dozens of spots where food trucks now legally operate—including Farragut Square, Franklin Square, and L’Enfant Plaza—will disappear overnight.

This restriction is not based on a deliberate, evidence-based investigation that looks at what impact food trucks have on sidewalk congestion. Instead, it appears that the District has copied the minimum sidewalk widths that apply to sidewalk cafes and other permanent occupations of the public right of way and applied them to food trucks. But unlike the presence of sidewalk cafes, bike racks, and other permanent obstructions, a food truck does not deny anyone the use of the sidewalk.

Secondly, the proposal calls for the creation of Mobile Roadway Vending (MRV) locations that could further reduce the opportunities available to food trucks in the District. While MRVs would establish specific locations for food trucks to operate, officials have said that food trucks could not park in any other space on the same block as an MRV. The end result would likely be a drastic reduction in the overall number of parking spaces available to mobile vendors.

“Instead of trying to ‘protect’ brick-and-mortar restaurants from food trucks and other vendors, city officials should encourage a vibrant vending culture by enacting clear, simple, and modern laws,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bert Gall. “The end result would be a win for food trucks, their many customers, the local economy, and—most importantly—the right of all D.C. small-business owners to earn a living free from anti-competitive restrictions.”

The Institute for Justice is the nation’s leading legal advocate for the rights of entrepreneurs. IJ launched its National Street Vending Initiative to protect the rights of street vendors throughout the country.