DC's Terrible New Food Truck Regs

A blog about business and economics.
March 28 2013 11:32 AM

What Problem Are DC's New Food Truck Regulations Trying To Solve?

Map-of-Proposed-Regulations

Jessica Sidman offers the above map from the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington which shows how much of downtown trucks would be exluded from under proposed new regulations. What kind of regulations? Well the idea is to establish "23 mobile vending zones throughout the city where limited numbers of food trucks would be allowed to sell food" with each zone featuring at least three trucks and assignment to different zones auctioned by lottery. She also wrote a longer column featuring interviews with many truck owners about the problems this will cause for their businesses.

But my question is what problem is this proposal intended to solve? I don't hear any clear rationale for these rules and the only real beneficiaries would seem to be owners of non-mobile downtown lunch businesses.

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That would hardly be the first time that a city government adopted irrational vendor rules designed to benefit incumbents but it's not good.

I know some people of a market urbanist persuasion take the view that trucks' very existence is a sign of the failure of zoning codes and regulations, but I actually think trucks are an important lunch solution on the merits. Office workers like a diverse array of lunch choices, but they also like to get lunch very close to their office. Food vendors, meanwhile, offer better product when they can specialize. The right solution is for mobile food vendors to be an important part of the mix. The trucks come to you, so over the course of a given week you can sample a range of options without needing to move very far.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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