Streamlining local-level small business regulations often codes as a conservative issue, but I think it’s a mistake for liberals to look at things that way. Liberals want more jobs. Liberals want more independent local businesses. But local governments can’t do a big demand-side stimulus to get more money to residents like the federal government can. They have to balance their budgets every year. The main job-creating powers local governments have left are:
1. lowering overhead for businesses
2. reducing barriers for new businesses to compete with incumbent businesses
3. pro-growth tax policies
4. pro-population growth land use and development policies
Some regulations are necessary to ensure health and safety of workers and customers, but some are just plain anti-competitive, designed to protect incumbent businesses from new entrants.
One example is Pittsburgh’s mobile vendor laws, that limit competition between food carts and trucks and traditional storefront food sellers. Bill Peduto has been on this issue for a while, and now he’s made it part of his Mayoral platform:
Food trucks have become an extremely popular option for diners across the world over the past 20 years. In Pittsburgh, we have seen dozens of entrepreneurs start food trucks either as an expansion of an existing brick-and-mortar restaurant or as a stand-alone business. However, our laws around mobile vending are outdated and make doing business very difficult for this group of enthusiastic chefs. I have already introduced legislation in City Council to loosen some of the restrictions and open up the doors for a new generation of entrepreneurs, but we also need an administration that is friendly to these ideals.
1. Leveling the Playing Field
Food truck operators and other mobile vendors face strict rules and regulations that go well beyond what we require of brick-and-mortar restaurants. This is simply unfair. For example, a food truck must be at least 500 feet away from a business that sells a similar product. However, that similar product could be something as simple as a can of soda. Meanwhile two restaurants that sell pizza can open right next door to each other with no interference from the city. Additionally, food trucks can only remain in one place for 30 minutes or less. But for many food trucks, especially those making gourmet food from scratch, this restriction effectively makes them inoperable on any public right of way. It takes more than 30 minutes just for word to get out that the food truck is there let alone to actually cook food for a line of hungry customers.
These outdated restrictions don’t protect customers or other businesses, they simply make life difficult for mobile vendors.
2. Encouraging Entrepreneurship
Food truck operators and other mobile vendors are successful because they are filling a niche in the market. There are customers who want access to fast, affordable food but don’t want to eat at your typical fast food restaurant and don’t want to sit down for a meal at a brick-and-mortar restaurant. By keeping in place our outdated restrictions, we are stifling this entrepreneurial spirit and depriving customers of options they want.
We should loosen the restrictions placed on mobile vendors and put Pittsburgh on the map for high-quality, affordable, mobile food.