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Philly Legislation Threatens Food Truck Culture

(Photo by Roey Ahram/Flickr)

Philadelphia has one of the East Coast’s most bourgeoning food truck scenes, with its University City neighborhood serving as the nucleus for trucks whose reach has expanded through major city hotspots and into the suburbs. Despite discussion earlier this year to modernize the city’s food code to better comply with its food trucks, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports new legislation could make University City smell of fried cheese no more.

The maturation of the urban food truck industry is a reality with which cities continue to grapple. In 2013 the National Restaurant Association named food trucks the fastest growing sector of the restaurant industry, giving rise to fear on what the popularity would do to the rest of the industry and how other vendors could suffer. As a result, extraneous loopholes for any aspiring food trucks have become part of the process.

Philadelphia made some moves on loosening farmers’ market restrictions last year, making the legislation and registration process faster and cheaper for vendors. Food trucks in most cities tend to have a superfluous permitting process, undergoing approvals from multiple governmental departments, but the Philly Mobile Food Association (PMFA) saw some promise in cutting back the red tape when they teamed up with Councilman Mark Squilla for an easier-to-navigate food code.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell introduced a bill earlier this summer that would create a Drexel University District within University City, limiting the number of vendors to 25 and tie them to one location. The location would also require continuous operation, which could be seen as a direct contradiction of the very nature of food trucks. To cover the loss of parking spaces and cost of regulation, each truck would also be charged an annual fee of $2,750.

The legislation was created with no input from the PMFA. The association’s president, Rob Mitchell, told the Inquirer that though the legislation took him aback, he’s not against all of it — rather, the PMFA wants to ensure the new regulations are sustainable for vendors.

Other food truck vendors expressed concern that a guaranteed spot would lead trucks to be more complacent and lag on upkeep and appearances, as a large aspect of the competitive nature of trucks would be taken out of the equation.

Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.

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Tags: philadelphiafood trucks