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It’s no small miracle that there are enough food trucks in D.C. to frame major squares during lunchtime. A study out today by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that the District is the second most difficult city to do business in as a food truck, according to an index that compared the regulatory climate and other factors in 20 major U.S. cities. Only Boston was worse.
To gather data, researchers compiled the rules governing food trucks in each city and organized them into an index based on the World Bank’s Doing Business indicators and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Regulatory Climate Index 2014. They also surveyed 288 food truck operators to capture their first-hand accounts.
The study focuses on three major components of doing business: obtaining permits and licenses, complying with restrictions, and operating a food truck. The findings show that D.C. scores the poorest when it comes to the latter category of operating a food truck.
To launch a food truck business in D.C., researchers found:
Starting up requires at least 23 specific interactions with regulators; there are high startup fees ($2,720), another 22 restrictions on vending, and significant ongoing regulatory interactions. There are also oddities: an additional inspection and review process for meatless burritos, a short size limit on trucks (18.5 feet long), and a vendor badge requirement for each worker (with associated fees and processes).
Local food truck operators contacted for the survey felt negatively about government oversight and zoning. Specifically, they stressed issues with where in the city they’re allowed to operate. Food trucks pay the city $25 a month to enter a lottery and an additional $150 a month if they choose to use the locations they are assigned. By entering, food trucks hope to land the right to park in prominent locations like Farragut or Franklin squares.
Some food truck operators told City Paper the lottery is one of the reasons food trucks are losing business. Food truck festivals prove problematic, too.
Those surveyed also expressed frustration with not being able to park near the National Mall on weekends. They asked for various processes to be streamlined and made more food truck-friendly. One operator pointed out that trucks must skip a business day to renew their permits because they can only get health and fire inspections in the middle of the day.
Matt Geller, the founding president of the National Food Truck Association, provided guidance to researchers. He hopes that the findings will convince regulators to focus on public health and public safety and otherwise let food trucks thrive. “Don’t have police ticketing them and taking away from their profits,” he pleas.
“One thing the D.C. area has going for it is all of these great new restaurants that opened over the past eight years because food trucks were so successful,” he continues. He’s referring to the fact that many of the city’s top food trucks have gone on to open brick and mortar restaurants or food halls. “Don’t you want that culinary expansion?”
On a national level, the study found that food trucks have become a record $2.7 billion industry, enjoying an annual growth rate of 7.9 percent. The whole study is available here.