Will food trucks remain a novelty in the City of Kitchener? Or will the city offer a friendly environment for food trucks?
That’s the decision facing city council when its Finance and Corporate Services Committee meets on Monday afternoon to consider a staff report (PDF) on the future of food trucks in the city.
What does a future with food trucks look like?
Let’s ask ourselves a few questions first.
Would having a food truck available at McLennan Park be a welcome service to parents watching their kids play? skateboarders? beach volleyball players?
Could Huron Natural Area draw from the adjacent industrial park to people to eat their lunch there if it had a food truck?
Can a food truck get Manulife staff out of their offices to enjoy lunch by the clock tower? Or better yet, a weekly group of food trucks in the Victoria Park commons?
If any of those scenarios are appealing, the city needs to do better than what is currently recommended.
1 year pilot program to be extended to 3 years
Two years ago, the city piloted a food truck program to gauge interest and figure out how to move forward. That meant one truck for one hour per week on one day a week for a total of 16 hours.
Last year, the pilot was extended another year with the addition of one food truck festival. People lined up for an hour to get food. More than a few chose instead to head to other downtown establishments such as Imbibe and the Boathouse.
Even the city report says food trucks are popular while only recommending modest changes. So why is council being asked to essentially extend the the pilot program for a third year?
Barriers to food trucks not insurmountable
Apparently, the mobile nature of the business makes them difficult to ensure they have the proper licenses and have health inspections.
Other cities have managed. So can Kitchener. Besides it’s not really that difficult since food trucks do a good job of sharing their location on Twitter.
So it comes down to concerns by restaurants about competition and differences in operating overhead. They have some legitimate concerns but they already need to deal with them whenever a competitor opens. Granted food trucks are different but the city is not even trying to do anything to allow them more regular access and a meaningful increase in hours to operate on public property.
Besides the city rarely gets involved in preventing competition or leveling the playing field between businesses. Is it really necessary in this situation?
It looks like they are content with keeping food trucks a novelty.
Kitchener can and should do better
The city is moving much too slowly. Kitchener can and should provide a friendlier environment for food trucks. And that doesn’t mean that the city needs to allow food trucks to operate anywhere they want at anytime. Some rules and regulations are appropriate but what is proposed is too restrictive.
So what should the city do?
Here’s a four point action plan:
- Conduct town hall forums and private meetings with core stakeholders
- Encourage dialogue and the building of relationships among competing stakeholders
- Identify private vacant lots to create partnerships for mobile vendors to gather and sell
- Designate public spaces specifically for mobile vending
These actions are recommended as best practices by the National League of Cities (the American version of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities).
Since the staff report doesn’t include any reference to consultations or dialogue, I need to assume that none have occurred. I know for certain that food truck customers have not been consulted to see what they would like.
While realistically it is too late for consultations for 2014, dialogue and relationship building could be initiated.
What the city can still do is to designate a number of public spaces where food trucks can operate seven days a week from April 1 to October 31.
What you can do
If you’d like to see more opportunity for food trucks to operate on public property in Kitchener, here’s what you can do:
- Attend Monday’s meeting (12 – 3 p.m.)
- Speak at Monday’s meeting. Register in advance or at the meeting.
- Contact your city Councillor and the Mayor to let them know you want more opportunities for food trucks in 2014 than what is recommended.
Can’t attend or speak Monday?
Whatever Council’s committee decides on Monday needs to go to a City Council meeting. I anticipate that would be at its March 3 evening meeting.
I haven’t said yet what I’d most like to say on this topic. So I’ll save it for another post to come before Monday.