Time to Roll Back Pittsburgh’s Job-Killing Food Truck Laws

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It feels gross to use conservative rhetoric, but in the case of Pittsburgh’s food truck regulations, it really is true that overregulation is standing in the way of job creation.

Amy Jo Brown explains in her excellent Pittsburgh City Paper article:

The customers eat it up at the Green Tree Park farmers’ market as a steady stream of them hand Szarnicki cash. One, Banksville resident Alfonso Danzuso, chides her for her absence a week earlier.

“I got upset,” he says. “I come every Thursday, and I get these pierogies. They’re good.”

So good, in fact, they’re currently illegal — at least within Pittsburgh city limits.

Operating in the city is a gamble. Vendors such as Szarnicki operate out of mobile kitchens — often refurbished postal or newspaper-delivery trucks — using social media to broadcast their daily locations to attract large crowds. And if that isn’t hard enough, they also face a daunting and convoluted regulatory environment above and beyond public-health safety rules.

For example, the city’s rules prohibit parking in metered spots, and require vendors to move every 30 minutes and to keep trucks at least 500 feet away from a business selling a similar product.

The rules, vendors argue, are intended to stifle the competition they offer traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants […]

A look at the history of the vending law, which Pittsburgh officials first tightened in 1987 and have revised several times since, shows that changes were motivated by complaints from business owners with storefronts who felt street vendors and peddlers had unfair advantages.

There is just no legitimate public interest in protecting incumbent businesses from competition. The practical effect of restricting competition from mobile vendors is higher food prices, fewer choices, and more mediocre restaurants hanging on past their sell-by date.

The “worst” things that could happen if the city deregulated competition from food trucks might be that the crappiest restaurants go out of business, and other restaurants try to compete by improving their menus and lowering their prices. It’s easy to see why incumbent mediocre restaurants might not like that, but I fail to see how lower prices and higher quality would be bad from a consumer’s perspective, or the city government’s perspective. Indeed, more total businesses would almost surely mean higher revenues.

Health and safety rules are important, but anti-competitive rules are stupid. Mobile vendors should be allowed to stay parked as long as they want (paying the parking meter of course), move wherever they want, and sell food anywhere people are gathering.

Amy Jo says Councilman Bill Peduto may be interested in relaxing some of these laws. Which other Council members might be persuadable? This is a really easy thing that Pittsburgh can do to improve the city’s food scene and existing popular business districts, and it doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money.

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2 Responses to Time to Roll Back Pittsburgh’s Job-Killing Food Truck Laws

  1. James Rich says:

    Well written. I agree on every point.

  2. Jon says:

    Thanks James – good luck with the business!