The fight to liberate food trucks

The Institute for Justice, a self-described “libertarian public-interest law firm,” launched its new National Street Vending Initiative early this year in Texas and has since expanded it to Atlanta (where city officials had decided to reserve all public property for a single vending company) and Chicago (where aldermen have proposed rules so severe, they could cut off vending in the entire downtown area). The institute even released a report, “Streets of Dreams,” which reviews vending regulations in the country’s 50 largest cities, including Washington.

Here is much more.


Have I ever gotten sick from eating Chinese take-out? Yes. From a fine dining restaurant? Yes. From a food truck? Nope. You can SEE right into the truck, if it it looks unsanitary then no one will want to eat their food and the truck will clean up or it will go out of business. Liberate the trucks!


MIT students hospitalized after eating froma food truck.

Although I am in favor of food trucks, there is room for reasonable regulation--to avoid problems like litter, congestion, food safety, even property interests that owners have in what sits in front of their store. Not to mention bathroom access.

Supposedly, McDonalds and BK are studying food trucks--one coming soon in front of your house, the park you like to walk in, etc.

This is not a liberty issue, but a reasonable regulation issue that would permit foodtrucks, but not everywhere and with sanitation requirements.

Or, would you like the Washington Mall be a line of foodtrucks and wrapping paper, with people running into your bathroom to clean up.

Littering is against the law. No need for regulation there.

Sure. Common sense is needed. If you're causing a traffic jam, you're probably not following pre-existing traffic laws already in place. Let the food trucks set up where they want. Who are the people patronizing them? If no one buys from them they will go elsewhere or go away. If people in the parks and on the Capital are buying from them it means people like them because they are spending money. And, last I checked people can't storm my house's bathroom to 'clean up.'

This actually bolsters the libertarian argument. If there are so many food trucks that they are a problem meriting regulation, it's because of the tragedy of the commons presented by public roads.

The Mall is surrounded by food and souvenir trucks. They all look the same, so I'm going to guess that the DC city government has a lot of say over who can sell what. The food trucks near McPherson and Franklin Squares are much better and privately run. And the litter helps to get your mind off of the homeless people sleeping in the parks.

The article doesn't talk as much about regulations for public safety, but more about regulations that are pushed by the restaurants. These are the regulations that don't actually have an impact on public safety, but instead make it harder for a food truck to operate. Which in turn gives the restaurants less competition by the food trucks. We are running into the same issues here in Chicago, where restaurants are pushing for ordinances that restrict the way and where food trucks operate. The restrictions are nothing more than preventing the food trucks from competing with the restaurants, instead of protecting the public from health hazards etc.

Just so you know, imagine food trucks circling the Capital or your state Capital, public malls designed to set off your capital, setting up shop in front of the most scenic place in the park you like to visit, etc.

We have zoning regulations--they have to be reasonable too--but just because you have wheels doesn't mean you can set up shop, say, blocking the 9/11 memorial, even if you are not selling Korans and T-shirts.

This is why I'm a libertarian.

Nice strawman, Bill.

The question is whether food trucks should be banned from operating "too close" to fixed restaurants. And the answer is no.

Otherwise, one might get the idea that the primary purpose of government regulation is to protect favored constituents and punish everyone else. And no one wants to get that idea.


I laid out the problems I saw and see. I do not oppose having food trucks too close to fixed restaurants, and dare you to say that I did say that.

What I did say--and this is not a strawman--is that "food trucks circling the Capital or your state Capital, public malls designed to set off your capital, setting up shop in front of the most scenic place in the park you like to visit, etc."

Will you now apologize, or will you dig in.

The trucks go where there are paying customers. If people at the Capitol (check yer spellin' Bill), or on public malls, or at scenic spots in the park buy food, they are signalling that they like the service. It's what is called "value added". A consumer gets to enjoy the park, and eat a Korean BBQ taco. It's capitalism 101, and I personally love it.

When they designed the Capital Mall, for example, it was to be an open space, looking from one end to the other--unobstructed--; someone, for a taco, blocks the view--who is taking whose property.

Let's think about this a different way for a moment so you might consider having taco trucks block the view of the capitol.

But, first a digression. You do not have any objection, I presume, of a commercial mall blocking people from soliciting inside the mall or on the private parking lot--it is, afterall, the mall owners property. In fact, during the 70's and 80's, court cases upheld the right of the mall owner from prohibiting people from soliciting petitions in malls, demonstrating, etc.

Now, let's assume you have Disneyland, and it creates a capital mall--Disney could block the taco truck--but for some reason, when we all own the mall, and have elected officials manage it, we have to have the taco truck block the view.

Go figure.

Food trucks brought me poutine in a city where the winter is less than brutal. I don't care about anything else.

I'd like to see a wide-open market for food trucks but I think an agenda in the interest of "justice", would have to include also relieving non-mobile food vendors of the many regulations they must obey that food trucks can ignore - e.g. providing restroom access, minimum parking, etc. The focus on food trucks is a little mystifying; I don't get the sense that they are exceptionally heavily regulated compared to other industries.

Seems like if this is the big injustice that libertarian public-interest law firm's biggest worry is food truck regulation then there isn't much need for libertarian public-interest law firms.

This isn't their biggest worry, its more that this is an easy win for them that gets a foot in the door wrt right to do business.

Seems like if food truck regulation is the biggest injustice there is to worry about, then we don't need government- as if they are competent enough to regulate parking and bathrooms in the first place.

The big thing around here for the busybodies the last few years was telling people the right number of trees to plant in their parking lots.

And remember, every law comes attached to puppy killing SWAT teams.

So before you say "there out to be a law" remember, someone could get killed.

Non-sequitur. How does one follow the other? But if you don't need government maybe you should move someplace where there isn't government, like Somalia. Sure is nice there this time of year.

People pick these things from time to time to focus on, partly because they are so easy. Consider the worst case scenario: "Imagine a food truck going...gasp!...where people are!" Those people who have the audacity to go where others are on an empty stomach might drop a napkin and might have to drop their chalupa in the government-mandated private/public restroom!

Chris, There are regulations in most cities, and it deals with congestion, time for parking, trash facilities, park space, etc. I googled a little on this, and you might want to look at Madison Wis regs which strike a fair balance re public and congested spaces. They issue permits, and I believe they even have taste testers to assure quality and mix, since they do not ration by first come first serve or exhorbitant permit fees which would exclude smaller trucks.

Personally, I like food trucks. They can be an entrepreneurial opening for a restaurant to establish a reputation.

Use of public streets for portable businesses will become a bigger issue in the future as we can now do some things with less equipment and more sophisticated equipment than we did in the past, eg, liquid nitrogen ice cream, sou vide cooking with a flash saute, etc. It is just that you also have to consider that some of the vans are large, want to stay in the same place for a long time (preventing regular turnover of parking spaces), and generate traffic that will want to use a bathroom.

I am a libertarian and want to set up a Porta Potty in front of your house.

There is a market demand for Porta Potties, people need Porta Potties, and this is the next big thing.

I think I should be able to set up my Porta Potties business in front of the Cato Institute. People will pay for Porta Potty service and will not trouble the inhabitants of the building for the use of their toilet.

After I finish setting up my Porta Potty business in front of Cato, I think will next explore portable X-Rated film rental, a needle exchange program, a free food kitchen for the homeless and abortion counseling on the side in front of the Cato Institute. What do you think of my business plan? We can't have any restrictions on our business plan and do not expect any opposition from Cato.

None of those are food trucks.

And you aren't a libertarian.


What's the difference -- are you discriminating among legitimate lines of commerce.

And, as you said, you aren't a libertarian.

Cato called and asked if they could bring a band.

Great. But, if they bring a band, they will have to get a band permit first, unless they want to challenge that regulation, and if they do, and are successful, I would plan on establishing a band of community rappers to sing all year outside their door.

All regulations aren't bad. Sometimes you can be reasonable.


Here is why I think you are wrong. First and foremost, it is obviously a liberty issue. Second, it is obviously a liberty issue when a city's regulations is going to completely in effect ban the relatively harmless service. Third, you can talk about "reasonable regulation" all you want, and banning a service is not reasonable, but in practice they are not reasonable (see above). These councils don't have the bandwidth or wherewithal to actually craft reasonable regulation. They balance interests, and brick and mortar business are single-issue voters.

"and brick and mortar business are single-issue voters"

... and real estate tax payers

Bill, I would like to join you and provide media within your potra-potties. The media could be visual or sound only. It would consist of comedic stand-up routines and jokes which would play continuously.

I'd like to propose that we call the business "Shits and Giggles".


Got a deal.

I teach law from time to time (antitrust) and what you do to teach is use the socratic method and alter the fact situation so the students try to discern what are the core principal(s) you need to think about--and what are the arguments that can be made one way or the other. So, when I see black/white issues (not in the racial sense), I love it. You can draw people pretty far into something before they begin to realize that the world is a bit more nuanced and maybe they should be too.

Humor also works the same way in illuminating issues.

I should have read the entire thread before commenting above. I didn't realize I was replying to a hysteric ninny. Your strawman argument is infantile.

Esconsed, First, calling people names reflects on you, not me. Second, strawman is defined as " an argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position." My position was clear, what I objected to was clear, and the argument against what I objected to was clear. Perhaps claiming my argument was a strawman argument was itself a strawman--a "misrepresentation of an opponent's position."

The argument here is that food trucks are a welcome and harmless service that paying customers enjoy. Your objection includes this, "After I finish setting up my Porta Potty business in front of Cato, I think will next explore portable X-Rated film rental, a needle exchange program, a free food kitchen for the homeless and abortion counseling on the side in front of the Cato Institute. What do you think of my business plan? We can’t have any restrictions on our business plan and do not expect any opposition from Cato." Not really what people on this thread are arguing. Strawman, a misrepresentation of an opponent's position.

No, what I am saying is that the underlying principle is regulation and use of the streets for commerce.

btw, I was joking about the band. It is my sense that Cato would be the people who wouldn't care, making your example even worse than simply considering your ad absurdum examples like portapotties, which, if you ever need one you would bless it.

Not to mention the Porta-Potty would get no customers outside an office building that has its own bathrooms. If I am in need of a bathroom, I sure hope someone comes by with a Porta-Potty.

Let's give Bill his own big-government medicine: Report him for some crimes, and watch the SWAT team tear down his house.

Just because you don't like my flatbed Porta Potty business you make these threats.

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