One nice thing about living in Orange County, California is that food trucks are seemingly everywhere that is convenient. A waffle food truck pulls into my apartment complex, offering a late Saturday breakfast. Different trucks rotate in on Thursday evening, offering a quick dinner. Food trucks visit the corporate park where I work, offering lunch. Food trucks also have a strong presence at local parks and events. And the variety is wide: I have seen food trucks serving lobster, sushi, pizza, Thai, vegetarian, Mexican, monster burgers, etc. If you can think of the food, it is probably served out of a truck in Orange County.
Orange County, California, is surely no free market when it comes to the mobile food industry. But contrast the industry’s presence in O.C. to the dearth of food trucks in New York City, as described in this recent New York Times column:
As I was walking through Prospect Park recently, I wanted to find a healthful snack for my son and something for me. The only options, though, were the same sort of carts that my dad took me to in the ’70s: Good Humor ice cream, overpriced cans of soda and overboiled hot dogs sitting in cloudy water. This seemed ridiculous. In the past few decades, food in New York City has gone through a complete transformation, but the street-vendor market, which should be more nimble, barely budges. Shouldn’t there be four Wafels & Dinges trucks for every hot-dog cart?
Why are food trucks not easy to find in New York City? He blames regulations:
There are numerous (and sometimes conflicting) regulations required by the departments of Health, Sanitation, Transportation and Consumer Affairs. These rules are enforced, with varying consistency, by the New York Police Department. As a result, according to City Councilman Dan Garodnick, it’s nearly impossible (even if you fill out the right paperwork) to operate a truck without breaking some law. Trucks can’t sell food if they’re parked in a metered space . . . or if they’re within 200 feet of a school . . . or within 500 feet of a public market . . . and so on.
Things can get so bad that one food-truck employee spent eight hours in jail for vending falafels without the proper license!
The author concludes by comparing New York City regulations with the Third World:
In Ecuador, for example, it takes about 56 days and 13 separate procedures to get all the legal paperwork done to start a new business. In the United States, it’s an average of six days and six procedures. But if you want to open a mobile-food business in New York, it’s essentially like starting a business in Ecuador — and that’s if you can somehow arrange a permit.
I do not agree with everything the author says, but this whole article is worth reading because it illustrates how regulations can mire and discourage business activity.
(This is cross-posted from Voices for Reason.)