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In response to DC’s proposed food truck regulations, calls for “rules that work”

· November 8, 2012

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DC regulators are at it again, proposing local regulations targeted to limit disruptive competition from startup businesses that are vehicles and are popular with customers.  No, it’s not Uber again; it’s food trucks again.  Dan has an excellent post explaining the issues that food trucks face from local governments trying to protect the restaurant establishment.

This time, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) seeks to limit food trucks from parking and vending from adjacent to an “unobstructed sidewalk” that’s “less than ten feet (10 ft.) wide in the Central Business District.”  (See 531.2(c) and 530.8(c) of the proposed regulations [.doc].)  The Central Business District includes much of downtown DC, and the regulations as written would prevent food trucks in eight of the ten most popular sites:  L Street NW and Metro Center would be able to comply with these regulations, but Capitol South, Chinatown, L’Enfant Plaza, Union Station, Franklin Square, Farragut Square, George Washington University and Virginia Avenue NW would all be in violation, due to sidewalk widths.  A map in the Washington Post blog post gives more details, as does a WaPo article.

One truck owner, Josh Saltzman of the PORC truck (which, as the Post notes, has a “brick-and-mortar spinoff,” the Kangaroo Boxing Club, and so understands that perspective as well) described the proposal to the Post as “anti-competitive and atrocious.”  The DC Food Truck Association (DCFTA) executive director, Che Ruddell-Tabisola, added: “We’ll be looking at the regulations with an eye toward that — are these regulations prohibiting competition and choice?”

The DCFTA is taking a stand against these regulations as being unworkable rules, and has an activism campaign at rulesthatwork.org.  (I’m surprised that URL wasn’t taken before!)  As rulesthatwork.org argues, food trucks “offer District residents and workers popular choices and competition through a variety of great cuisine at great prices, adding to the vibrancy of downtown and creating hundreds of jobs.”  Let’s hope that they continue to.

Comments for this round of rulemaking are due on November 13.

Competition

Some, if not all of society’s most useful innovations are the byproduct of competition. In fact, although it may sound counterintuitive, innovation often flourishes when an incumbent is threatened by a new entrant because the threat of losing users to the competition drives product improvement. The Internet and the products and companies it has enabled are no exception; companies need to constantly stay on their toes, as the next startup is ready to knock them down with a better product.