Darrow Montgomery

Today marks a victory for food trucks. Operators felt the city dealt them an unfair blow earlier this month when the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs put the kibosh on food trucks registering more than one truck in its lottery. The lottery system generates a schedule for when food trucks can park in premium lunchtime locations like Farragut Square. Starting in June, operators will once again be permitted to enter more than one truck. 

In early April, The DMV Food Truck Association called the move a “misguided” and “possibly illegal” attempt by DCRA to change the lottery eligibility rules. Food truck operators maintain they weren’t given an opportunity comment on the regulation change. Many were worried about how they’d stay in the black without more than one truck eligible to compete for spots during the downtown lunch rush. 

Kirk Francis of Captain Cookie found out he couldn’t register more than one truck when he went to submit his lottery entries for May on April 1. He typically enters three. “After contacting DCRA, we received no information other than the statement saying, ‘We changed the rules,’” Francis told City Paper in early April. When he called to get more information, he says a DCRA staffer hung up on him.

This time it was DCRA’s turn to send out an e-mail to food truck operators. It reads:

“Since 2013, the number of food trucks in the city has grown more than threefold and is quickly approaching 500 vehicles. Although this has made an impact on the culture and economy of the District, the industry does face some unique challenges that must be addressed in order to remain sustainable. 

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) applied a temporary pilot initiative allowing food truck vendors to enter only one vehicle in the May 2018 Mobile Roadway Vehicle (MRV) Lottery. Another adjustment will be made to allow more than one vehicle to enter the June 2018 MRV Lottery. For June 2018, registration will go back to how it was before we made the temporary change for May 2018. 

We have heard from some of you that this change interrupted the normal course of business for some food truck vendors. Our long-term goal is to encourage the steady, but measured growth of the food truck industry in the District.”

The initial move to limit single operators from flooding the lottery came about because there were a number of “ghost trucks” gaming the system by entering as many as eight trucks when they only intended to use one or two spaces. There are simply too many food trucks for the number of lottery spots available. Operators would like to see DCRA shift its focus to creating more lottery spots in new neighborhoods with dense daytime populations. 

DCRA says based on the dialogue they’ve had with operators over the past few weeks, including on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, they’re going to be looking into: defining the number of vehicles that are able to enter the lottery per business; banning unauthorized trading of lottery spaces; implementing penalties for unused lottery spaces; increasing DCRA truck inspections; increasing enforcement of vending regulations; and identifying and vetting additional lottery locations.

They’ve asked food truck operators to complete a survey to gather more information so they can make more informed decisions. 

The letter concludes: 

“Lastly, DCRA understands that communication is key to producing successful outcomes. Some vendors have chided our decision to apply changes without input, which DCRA recognizes in hindsight was a flawed approach. Going forward, we will ensure food trucks are aware of potential changes under consideration that may affect your industry to provide the opportunity for your critical input and engagement.”

In response, Francis says, “I was thrilled to receive an apology for the ‘flawed approach’ of implementing drastic changes without input notification of the affected businesses. This letter from DCRA is hopefully the start of a productive relationship where we can all work together to make D.C. a great city for food and small business.”

He says food trucks should continue to hold DCRA accountable for consistent administration and enforcement of their regulations, and DCRA should hold food trucks accountable for operating in compliance with those regulations. “This is a great outcome for all food trucks and small businesses in the District,” Francis continues. “We spoke up, made some noise, and were able to get fair treatment.”