D.C. may ease parking, idling rules for food trucks

The city may relax restrictions on food trucks, allowing the mobile eateries to stay parked for longer periods of time when they are not serving customers.

The District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs set forth a handful of amendments to the decades-old law for vending vehicles Friday to lift a statute that required food trucks to move from their spots if there are no customers in line. The proposed regulations need approval from the D.C. Council after a 30-day public comment period.

Vendors can only “remain at [a] location for the duration of the time allowed by the parking meter or applicable posted parking regulations,” according to the proposed law. Trucks that sell sweets, including ice cream, confectionary treats, coffee and tea, would still move after 10 minutes with no patrons in line.

DCRA legislative affairs specialist Helder Gil said by making it easier for street vendors like food trucks to operate, he expects the revisions will produce a spike in the number of food trucks in the city.

“Our goal is to update 30-year-old regulations, eliminate confusion and ambiguities and generally make it easier for these small businesses to be able to start up and operate in the District,” Gil said. The old rules existed before the rapid growth in popularity of food trucks in the city.

The proposal also calls for “vending development zones” – or areas where communities can designate how many food trucks, sidewalk vendors and farmers markets they need. Businesses, neighborhood groups or city agencies would be permitted to submit applications to create the zones.

“Our proposed vending regulations seek to balance the interests of street vendors and bricks-and-mortar businesses while seeking to ensure District consumers have a variety of new, vibrant food options to choose from,” Gil said.

Moustafa Shokra, a chef for the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food truck Tasty Kabob, said the new laws would not necessarily affect his truck, typically parked at 22nd and H streets in an area marked by the city as a vending location.

“The new laws affect food trucks parking in downtown D.C. more, although they were really not fair,” he said.

The H Street spots, under the proposed law, would be designated to vendors based on a monthly lottery system.

FoodTruckFiesta.com, a website that tracks the city’s food trucks, reported Jan. 12 that Metropolitan Police officers were ticketing food trucks that did not have lines of patrons with a $50 fine. The site also said trucks with 17 or more violations risked having their licenses revoked.

Food trucks are a growing presence on campus and throughout the city, as many businesses expand or add a mobile presence.

Local entrepreneur Kris Hart, owner of campus eatery and grocery shop FoBoGro, said the existing rules offer an unfair advantage to food trucks – which pay lower taxes than restaurants, delis and sandwich shops – and the amendments would not foster much change.

“I don’t mind them. I support them 100 percent, but they have it easier than us,” he said.

There are about 94 registered food trucks in the District, according to FoodTruckFiesta.com.

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