If you live in an urban environment, you have likely seen food trucks on city streets, in parking lots or at any number of local events. The mobile food industry has grown significantly over the last few years and, with that growth, vendors and their brick-and-mortar competition have been faced with a changing regulatory landscape.
Just last year, Virginia enacted a law which expanded the areas where food truck vendors can sell their products. In May 2015, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill that lifted Virginia’s ban on food truck operations on state-maintained roadways. Prior to lifting the ban in Virginia, food trucks and other mobile food vendors could only sell their products on private streets, which effectively prohibited truck sales on many of the busiest streets and centers in the capital of Richmond and Northern Virginia (many are owned and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation). Prior to the passing of the 2015 Virginia law, Fairfax County, Virginia facilitated the operation of food trucks in shopping centers and office parks by significantly lowering the zoning approval fee required for food truck operators from $16,000 to $100. These changes in Virginia are but a few of the examples demonstrating the changing regulatory framework surrounding mobile food vending.
Outside of Virginia, many localities are facing resistance against regulations governing the locations of food trucks.
For example, Baltimore, Maryland prohibits food trucks from parking and selling within 300 feet of any business that sells similar products. This means that a food truck primarily selling pizza cannot be within 300 feet of any brick-and-mortar pizza establishment. However, a recent case has been filed against the City of Baltimore claiming that the ban is unconstitutional.
Cases in Texas have also been brought against jurisdictions with laws similar to those in Baltimore. Lawyers and food truck activists claim that these type of “buffer” laws exist only to protect brick-and-mortar establishments from additional competition – a purpose they assert is not a legitimate governmental interest.
Major cities like New York have dealt with opposition against similar regulations from the mobile food vending community for some time. However, many smaller urban centers are only recently beginning to see an influx of food trucks and, as a result, their local governing bodies are struggling with whether, and how, to regulate these operations. Oftentimes, it is traditional restaurants and food centers that urge localities to impose mobile dining restrictions.
As food trucks continue to grow in popularity, we will likely see changing laws and regulations as local governments try to adapt and balance the competing interests.