Friday Aug 31 2012
Our View: Roll forward with favorable food truck regulations
There’s a popular phrase going around this election season — let the market pick the winners and losers, not the government — and it fits perfectly into the debate over food trucks versus brick-and-mortar restaurants in Auburn. For some time now the popularity of food trucks has been growing both nationally and regionally, and it’s no surprise that these mobile restaurants have rolled their way into the Auburn business community. But it seems the city hasn’t been willing to give the complete green light when it comes to these types of food ventures — more like a yellow one, use caution. That needs to change. Currently, if you wish to buy your lunch from a mobile vendor, be it say from Maria’s Mexican Tacos’ truck in Downtown Auburn, you better make sure you get to it within 30 minutes of it opening for business because otherwise it’ll be gone by the time you get there. Granted, the truck might just be across the street at another location, but that might not always be the case. Those 30 minutes you have to get your food is the amount of time these trucks have to do business when they set up shop on private property, according to current Auburn licensing. The city so far hasn’t changed this policy as it tries to decide the best way to incorporate food trucks with brick-and-mortar stores. “This issue has been going on for about five years (in other communities),” former Auburn Mayor and Planning Commission member Bob Snyder told the Journal. “It’s nothing new – trying to establish regulations that don’t exclude food trucks but make them abide by regulations, while making things a little fairer for businesses that have sunk capital into a site.” While there is something to be said for the costs and responsibilities that come with being a store, these mobile entrepreneurs have expenditures, too — fuel, maintenance, business licensing, inspections, insurance, food costs, employees, taxes. These mobile food purveyors should be given the opportunity to sell their products and make a living wherever the site may be — if it creates competition, isn’t that what it’s all about? Give people options for the best tasting and best-priced foods. This is why the city needs to expand the amount of time food trucks can set up shop to at least two hours in one spot and give them flexibility to build a customer base. Would a brick-and-mortar owner be upset if one of these trucks set up shop in front of their establishment and sold the same food cheaper? Understandably, yes. But that’s the world of free market enterprise. Instead of just being upset, the owner then needs to come up with ways to answer the competition and in turn draw more customers. Public opinion of the food truck industry seems to be a fairly positive one. Readers of the Journal in an unofficial online poll, that allows for one person to vote multiple times, said they favored food trucks in the Auburn business community. Adherence to rules, regulations and inspections for food safety were highlighted among some respondents as the caveats to allowing these mobile food trucks to do business, and rightfully so. Trying to make things “a little fairer” for brick-and-mortar stores smacks of protectionism. Set reasonable standards for regulations, food standards and a two hour time limit for food trucks and get out of the way Auburn. Give the public the option, and mobile food vendors the opportunity, to be another option to Auburn’s palate, and stoke the fires of competition that could create great culinary creations.