I wish I wrote a blog about food trucks sometimes: Chicago has made it really difficult for expansion

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The Flirty Cupcakes food truck. Photo by Andrew Huff. 

Most of my time (because it’s actually my job) is to blog about transportation. This blog is about cities, and cities are about food trucks, so I guess it’s fine. I neither own a food truck, nor patronize them, but I’m fascinated by the process of how city administrations are handling them, whether through some kind of indifference or making regulations that seem only to make running a food truck more difficult than it should be.

At a “mobile food summit” at the University of Chicago in the spring of 2012, I learned from the sponsor Institute for Justice that they were suing cities for passing unconstitutional laws that regulated business not for health and public safety, their duty, but to protect the economic well-being of other businesses. Based on that knowledge, Chicago did this with the food truck ordinance from July 2012.

The Chicago Tribune reports today, in summary form, the current status of this regulation (here’s the full article):

No city licenses for food trucks

The city hasn’t licensed a single food truck for onboard cooking since the practice was approved in July. Some food truck operators say they’re scared off by the extensive red tape they foresee in the application process. Of the 109 entrepreneurs who have applied for Mobile Food Preparer licenses, none has met the city’s requirements.

I looked this up to know more and I found short commentary on Reason magazine’s blog:

The City of the Big Shoulders is hungry. And 109 entreprising folks want to help feed it. Too bad they’re not allowed to.

For example, the Tribune interviewed proprietors, one of whom said, “While most of its provisions are similar to those in other major cities, [Gabriel] Wiesen said, Chicago’s code includes rules on ventilation and gas line equipment that “are meetable but extremely cumbersome and can raise the price of outfitting a truck by $10,000 to $20,000.”

The bit about the regulation possibly being unconstitutional is that the food trucks with this license (which allows them to cook on the truck) must have a GPS device recording their position during retail hours and cannot operate within 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant (except in designated mobile food truck loading zones, for a maximum of two hours). Restricting where and when a food preparation business can operate is the tricky part: the city doesn’t regulate this for brick-and-mortar restaurants (except for zoning, which is much more lax and is intended to keep incompatible land uses away from each other).

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About Steven Vance

Enthusiast for urbanism, bicycling as transportation, and open data. Building a bicycle culture in Chicago.