People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
According to an exclusive report from community blogARLnow, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID) is drawing up regulations to present to the Arlington County Board concerning food trucks in that neighborhood.
From the post:
The Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID) is in the process of forming a set of recommendations for the Arlington County Board regarding the regulation of food trucks, according to an internal document obtained by ARLnow.com. The BID, which is funded by the property owners who rent space to the neighborhood’s 59 restaurants, delis and cafes, says in the document that “the number, location and type of operation” of food trucks and carts is “inadequately regulated by Arlington County.” Even during the “off season” winter months, between 3 and 9 food trucks flock to N. Lynn Street alone to serve hungry Rosslyn lunch-goers, according to the BID. But while residents and workers may appreciate the variety and convenience of food trucks, the restaurants that pay rent in Rosslyn have been complaining.
Clearly, the BID and its members want to regulate their competition. Consider some (but not all) of their proposed regulations:
Food trucks travel where there is demand for their goods. There is no need to regulate the number and schedule; the market handles this.
Read: Keep them far away from brick-and-mortar restaurants and hard to find, so people don’t buy from them.
Again, the market can decide how many food trucks a given block can support. This feigned concern for sidewalk space is just nonsense.
Again, restaurants want access to food trucks to be inconvenient.
This is unnecessary and would be nearly impossible for food trucks to comply with. Whose restrooms? Would the McDonald’s allow food truck customers to use their restrooms? What about a private office building? And why do food truck customers need to access a restroom while buying lunch?
Business often colludes with government in order to keep competitors from cutting into a share of the market. That is especially the case when a new competitor can do something better, cheaper, and more efficiently, as is often the case with food trucks over brick and mortar restaurants.
Uyen Nguyen and her husband Andy own Lemongrass Truck, a Vietnamese food truck that frequents the Rosslyn neighborhood.
Nguyen believes that people get bored with many restaurant options and look forward to the choices provided when food trucks park nearby. “Trucks provide people much needed variety,” Nguyen said. “We provide that variety with speed. Is it that crazy to believe after years and years the restaurant business would have to evolve?”
Nguyen said the proposed regulations are an attempt to make it harder for food trucks to operate in Arlington. While the Rosslyn BID assures their regulations are to “level the playing field,” Nguyen said, “This is the typical David vs. Goliath story; however, it’s Goliath asking for a ‘level’ playing field.”
Food truck operators generally provide one another with enough space to operate without inhibiting sidewalk traffic, Nguyen said. “We all have unofficially taken turns going to certain locations each day,” she continued. In the absence of government regulations, the food truck community polices itself.
JP, who operates SeoulFoodDC, said some of the challenges faced by food trucks hinder their business more than the brick and mortar operations. “We need to lease a commercial kitchen and parking,” JP said. “On top of that, we are affected greatly by the weather.”
Nguyen agreed and added that truck size greatly limits how much business a food truck can do in a given day. Nguyen adds, “We’re only making money for a few hours a day. But I’m not the one crying about my hardships.” She expressed frustration because she believes food truck owners don’t have anyone lobbying on their behalf like brick and mortar establishments.
The recent interest in regulations seemed to follow the change in seasons, which greatly affects food truck business. “We’re at the mercy of the weather,” Nguyen said. “Notice how we didn’t hear all this fuss until the weather got nice?”
When asked if the Rosslyn BID had corresponded with food truck owners before drafting the proposed regulations, Carole Bernard, Rosslyn BID Director of Communications, assured me the “BID has spoken with all stakeholders and discussions continue.”
However, none of the food truck owners I spoke with had heard anything from the BID.
Food truck owners all agree they have one thing on their minds: the customer. Every food truck owner with whom I corresponded told me that their business depends on providing efficient, affordable service to their customers.
Nguyen has some advice for the Rosslyn BID. “One of the main problems for areas such as Rosslyn is the lack of activity after working hours,” Nguyen said. “I feel there are other things that would benefit the Rosslyn BID such as focusing on bringing traffic into the area after work hours to drive opportunities for growing revenue.”
“At the end of the day, we’re just a small business trying to make money,” Nguyen concluded.“For a lot of folks, trucks provide an affordable opportunity to get into the food service industry… There are more than enough lunch goers for everyone.”
Indeed, consumers in many communities have decided food trucks are an acceptable alternative to brick and mortar establishments, and the market has provided them with variety. But in community after community, regulators have sided with established businesses to limit consumer choice.
If you’re interested in finding out more about food truck regulations, check out this video from reason.tv.
Matthew Hurtt is a libertarian living in Arlington. Follow him on Twitter: @matthewhurtt
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire