Trucks Stuck in Bureaucratic Muck

July 16, 2013 at 1:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Ever since the first push in Lincoln’s food truck craze, there has been a lot of talk about the crumminess of Lincoln’s food truck-related ordinances. The City has been under pressure to remedy the situation, allowing the trucks to do what they do best—serve food curbside—rather than being relegated to scattered private parking lots. Now the City has come forward with a set of proposed food truck rules; they aren’t very enticing.

Part of the problem is that the new rules are based on the City’s existing sidewalk cart ordinance, which itself is lousy. There’s a reason sidewalk carts haven’t taken off in Lincoln. (Random aside: whatever happened to The Grillwalker? I miss that guy’s brats.) The new plan would cause vendors to face higher fees and more red tape with very little payoff. Trucks would be required to park 150 feet from the nearest food establishment, for example, even if that establishment is closed. That rule, designed to make the ordinance “fair” for brick-and-mortar stores, effectively pushes the food trucks out of the most desirable parts of Downtown. The City’s definition of “fair” seems a bit fuzzy these days.

I don’t know what the solution is, but clearly we’re nowhere near anything acceptable. In broad terms I suppose my druthers is for an ordinance that encourages more food truck competition while ensuring food safety. That would require things like flexible access to parking; no hogging of parking spots; appropriate fees; and a solid, but not onerous, inspection process. Maybe I’m not as worried about brick-and-mortar businesses as I ought to be. They are certainly welcome to make their case, but so far all I’ve heard from them is whining. I’m sure they can do better than that.

Fortunately local food trucks have been largely successful despite this ordinance mess. Good for them. The more good food happening in Lincoln, the better.

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The Comments

Brian July 16, 2013 at 2:48pm

I love the food trucks and want to see them able to serve any part of town that can support them, but I’ve also been in places that seem to let them park wherever they want (inbetween lanes of traffic, in parking stalls, on sidewalks…) and it always strikes me as being pretty inconsiderate to drivers and local business owners that these trucks just seem to stop wherever they want.

I would prefer to see some spots around downtown reserved for trucks where they can reserve a time and spot almost farmer’s market style, but it would give trucks the ability to tell customers for sure “we will be here at this time” and everybody would know that the truck had the right to be there.

Fletch July 16, 2013 at 2:59pm

I just can’t get fired up about this topic either way. I think having no ordinance is stupid, but all the proposed ideas more or less suck, too.

I think with the weight of the Restaurant Association, the trucks face an uphill battle. However, parking on private lots seems to be working for them. I haven’t seen them go out of business. They need to do a better job of marketing in some cases, perhaps. (Have a name that’s not overly clever so people can find you online. Also, be online. Have a website/FB page that shows a menu and where you will be and when you’ll be there. Use Twitter daily to announce where you are. Use hashtags.)

I agree that restaurant owners seem whiny - yes they paid more to open their establishments, pay property taxes, etc. But they made that choice. If they think it’s so unfair, let them operate their own food trucks, too.

Mr. Wilson July 16, 2013 at 3:30pm

I can think of a couple designated bus lanes that aren’t being used in the evenings. That doesn’t help over the lunch hour, but it would at least address the bar crowd.

Jesse T July 16, 2013 at 5:00pm

As long as the rule for 150 feet does not affect the trucks while operating on private property, I don’t see how that really changes it from how it is now to make it “worse”. 

I don’t think parking wherever the hell they want is the answer either,  it is a truck after all, not a “cart”. 

What additional inspections would a food truck need that a normal food establishment wouldn’t?  They already conform to the health inspections the same as a restaurant, and food handlers have to have permits, just like a restaurant, as far as I understand it. 

I hate to see additional inspections/fees/requirements that make it more difficult for more foodies to make a go of a food truck.  We’ve already lost one great truck and all of the others have severely cut back in their availability from the first year of business they were here.  I would rather see more trucks and more variety and competition, although I think the market is still small. 

Finally, I feel the food truck rallies are a great thing and bring a regular crowd every week/bi-weekly event.  I wish there would be more organization, planning, and entertainment involved, to both bring in new and repeat enthusiastic customers.  I would hope any ordinances do not affect these rallies.

What is with the j-star using a photo of a closed truck!? :-\

Fletch July 16, 2013 at 10:25pm

Which truck has gone away already?

Feit Can Write July 17, 2013 at 1:51pm

I’m for making it easier on the trucks.  Food trucks are viewed as a part of a hip, vibrant community (as well as a source of great food).

I love that some of the most promising new restaurants (Honest Abe’s, Qilin) are run by food truck operators.  So I don’t think it is too big of a stretch to say that encouraging food trucks (or at least not putting them at a competitive disadvantage) encourages future economic growth.

I can understand the concern with a truck parking in front of a downtown restaurant (even one the national chains), but 150 feet seems a bit much.

Jesse T July 18, 2013 at 4:08pm

GUP kitchen

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