If you are one of the Pgh Taco Truck’s almost 28,000 followers on social media, you know that owner James Rich has been campaigning for changes in the city’s food truck legislation.
New Pittsburgh residents who have enjoyed offerings from the Pgh Taco Truck, Franktuary, Steer & Wheel and other city favorites may think: food trucks aren’t legal in Pittsburgh? Well they are. Sort of.
A food truck license in Pittsburgh binds operators to three germane restrictions:
- They cannot park in metered locations.
- They cannot park within 500 feet of a restaurant that sells similar items.
And if they can find a spot that conforms to the above restrictions—
- They cannot park for more than 30 minutes.
Christina Walsh, Director of Activism and Coalitions at the Institute for Justice (IJ), calls these laws “protectionist and one of the most onerous in the nation.”
Rich agrees and says that the laws unfairly restrict his source of livelihood. “First, there are more meters than ever before, so it’s hard to find a place to park in a well-trafficked area. I’m even willing to pay twice the meter rates if I have to.
“Second,” he continues, “the similar items clause is open to wide interpretation. Who is to say that a taco is not similar to a calzone? It is meat wrapped in dough, after all.” And one might argue that this clause does not apply to brick and mortar restaurants.
“The third restriction—if you have ever set up a food truck, you know that it takes a half hour just to get everything going. And once we do, we often have lines going for six to eight hours. We are not stealing this business from anywhere and even if we were, it’s (expletive) America.”
During his campaign for mayor, then Councilman Bill Peduto identified making Pittsburgh a “food truck friendly city” as initiative #79 in his “100 days, 100 policies to change Pittsburgh.” During a recent radio interview, Rich called in a question on the subject and the Mayor responded that the proper way to approach the issue is to provide “legislative change through council that then council votes on and becomes part of the city code.”
The Mayor then points out that no one has been ticketed. “What we’ve done is that we’ve taken a hands-off approach until council brings up the legislation to allow our food truck industry to grow,” the Mayor said. He then cautions, “Sometimes when there isn’t a problem, addressing it and saying there is may cause a negative reaction.”
In a statement for this article, the Mayor reiterated his position of “taking [a] hands-off approach to allow [the] food truck industry to grow until such time as City Council forwards legislation.”
Megan Lindsey, one of the co-owners of Franktuary which has both a restaurant and food truck, shares that she recently met with Dan Gilman, City Council member for the 8th District, who supports changes in the current legislation but cautions that “there are not quite enough Council members on the same side to pass it through.”
Tim Tobitsch, Lindsey’s partner, plans to meet with Council members who are on the fence. “Until we can convince a few more ears, we are in this strange food truck purgatory.”
Gilman is working hard on introducing legislative changes that he hopes will pass by this summer. “What the change in legislation will do primarily is provide clarity for truck operators. Reality on the ground is that these regulations have not been standing in the way of food truck operators, there have been no tickets issued to enforce it. But there is certainly more opportunity to provide clarity and transform what’s happening.”
He adds that “the current legislation was written with ice cream trucks in mind—they can follow a half-hour parking limit, for instance. What I propose to change are certainly the time limitations. We also have to consider that parking meters have modernized since that time. There is also a lot of self-regulation that happens—the taco truck doesn’t set up in front of Mexican restaurants. But of course, there is always a risk. One bad operator can cause issues.”
“The distance provision is most controversial and I’m working with restaurant owners and food truck owners to resolve this,” he adds.