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Food truck vendors forced to defend their businesses in Nashville

By   /   September 13, 2011  /   No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER BUTLER

Until recently, Nashville government officials have given the city’s food truck vendors very few difficulties when it comes to establishing a business and generating tax revenue for the community.

Now, however, those same government officials want to regulate the vendors, at the behest of the very people vendors compete with for business — brick and mortar restaurant owners.

Members of the Metropolitan Traffic and Parking Commission met this week to gather public input on proposed regulations that would tell food truck vendors what they may or may not do while operating within Nashville — including limits on where and when they can set up their mobile businesses.

Brick and mortar restaurant owners said the proposed regulations are not an attempt to restrain competition. Instead, the proposed new regulations are about enhancing the overall public safety, and nothing more, they said.

Food truck vendors, however, had a message for everybody who attended the meeting. They specifically addressed complaints that food truck vendors have far fewer overhead costs than brick and mortars (thus giving them an unfair advantage) and have little or no regard for public safety.

“Some of the brick and mortar people have mentioned here that it’s not fair that they have to pay so much property taxes, and they say that food truck vendors have no expenses,” said food truck vendor Dale Shaw.

“But we still have loan payments on our trucks. We also have permit fees. We don’t have a free ride in any of this.”

Laura Meyers said she and other mobile food vendors are just as concerned about safety as brick and mortar owners — because without it, both types of businesses would likely have no customers.

Food truck vendors in Nashville are not currently subject to specific laws regulating their businesses, other than through ordinances that regulate their food trucks as vehicles and restaurants.

One of the brick and mortar restaurant owners who spoke in favor of more regulation, Kelly Wilder, owner of Which Wich Sandwich Shop in downtown Nashville, said food truck vendors decrease the visibility of his business. In response to his and other complaints, city officials drew up the proposed regulations, which specify the following:

• Food vendors may not do business between 2 a.m. – 5 a.m.

• More than two vendors may not set up on the same block at one time.

• Food vendors may not park and serve food in certain locations, including large swaths of downtown tourist hot spots.

One food vendor told commission members that it was unfair to keep him from selling after 2 a.m. especially at a time when bar owners close shop and departing patrons are possibly on the prowl for food.

Commission Chairman Gene Ward, though, said city officials need that one regulation so they would have time to perform any necessary garbage cleanup. He also said he and other commission members did not plan to make any final decisions on the proposed regulations at this month’s meeting.

Commission members are considering two possible distinct types of regulations — one for Nashville’s Central Business District downtown and another set for outside the district.

The next Metropolitan Traffic and Parking Commission Meeting is scheduled for October 10.

Christopher Butler is the editor of Tennessee Watchdog and the Director of Government Accountability for the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. Contact him at chris@tennesseepolicy.org

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