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The District proposed on Friday new rules governing food trucks that would create designated zones where a limited number of mobile vendors could sell their food.
The regulations propose 23 “mobile roadway vending zones” throughout the city containing at least three parking spaces where trucks could park from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Instead of feeding the meters, trucks would pay $150 a month for the spots, which would be assigned using a monthly lottery. Other trucks would still be able to roam and serve locations in response to demand, but they’d have to vend at least 500 feet away from the mobile roadway vending zones. In the central business district, trucks would have to park in metered spots with at least 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk. To park in other parts of the city, they’d need seven feet of unobstructed sidewalk.
D.C. Food Truck Association chairman and Red Hook Lobster Pound co-owner Doug Povich says the overall structure could work, “if the details are fixed.” For example, the District doesn’t specify exact street boundaries of the zones, and some of the areas, like Foggy Bottom, are large enough to potentially accommodate more than one zone.
Povich adds that it’s unclear exactly how many parking spots will be available in each zone and specifically where those parking spots will be. He’s worried that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the District Department of Transportation, which regulate food trucks, will make those decisions without feedback from food-truck operators. “There’s no process wrapped around that decision making,” Povich says.
Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington President Kathy Hollinger says that although the regulations are not “ideal,” they show significant progress. She says the addition of vending zones is a “very positive highlight” to the proposed regulations. She would still like to see the District specify exactly how many trucks would be allowed on a block, but she did not want to suggest a number for the cap. She says the overconcentration of food trucks has disrupted some of her restaurant members’ businesses, as well as public space.
“The city has been very receptive,” Hollinger says of the proposed rules overall. “They’ve listened to us, and our concerns are pretty basic at this point.”
The D.C. Food Truck Association has a few more concerns. Povich argues that vending zones are only needed in high-density areas where congestion is a problem. He says only five or six locations actually warrant a zone, not 23. Take Friendship Heights: “There are maybe two trucks that go there in a month, but they’re going to propose [a mobile roadway vending] location there? We don’t see a need for that,” Povich says.
As for the proposed rule that bar food trucks from operating within 500 feet of a vending zone: While Povich isn’t necessarily against buffer areas in areas where overconcentration is an issue, he says the boundaries need to be specifically drawn out. “It’s hard to figure out because people don’t have 500-foot tape measures,” he says. The D.C. Food Truck Association is also against restricting food trucks outside the zones to areas with at least 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk in the central business district. When you take into account parking meters, tree boxes, and other “obstructions,” Povich says, most downtown sidewalks would be off-limits. According to Hollinger, RAMW supports the proposed 500-foot limit and rule requiring 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk.
Povich also finds the lottery system for determining who gets the spots problematic: “From what we understand from existing lotteries that the District uses for souvenirs and food, it’s not a good methodology,” he says. “If you don’t win the lottery, you’re out of business for a month. It seems crazy to have a business model based on a game of chance.” Instead, he suggests a system that would rotate in and out all the trucks that were interested in a certain zone.
The public comment period for the proposed rules is open until 5 p.m. on April 8. Comments can be sent to DCRA Legislative Affairs Specialist Helder Gil at DCVendingRegs@dc.gov or mailed to 1100 Fourth St. SW, Room 5164.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery