Freeing the Food Trucks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

In October, Pittsburgh city council member Bill Peduto introduced legislation that would remove restrictions on mobile vending that stifle food trucks. Designed to protect brick-and-mortar businesses from competition, Pittsburgh's current regime is one of the most restrictive in the nation.

Food trucks are currently prohibited from parking in one spot for more than 30 minutes, in metered spaces (making most of the downtown area off limits), and within 500 feet of a restaurant. Moreover, zoning officials can veto parking on private property, even if the owner welcomes food trucks.

Via the Pittsburgh City Paper:

At any given point in time, I'm sure no matter what we're doing, someone can tell us we're not allowed to be doing it," says Tim Tobitsch, co-owner of the Franktuary Truck, a pioneer in the local food-truck industry that has sold gourmet hot dogs for about two years. 

Tobitsch and the owners of six other food trucks have joined together to form the Pittsburgh Mobile Food Coalition, which is pushing for the legislative change. And, unlike in other cities, some brick-and-mortar establishments are on board.

The owners of Bar Marco, a cocktail bar in the Strip District, invite food trucks to their parking lot for “Food Truck Fridays,” for instance. Acclaimed restaurateur Brian Pekarcik, who operates a food truck as well as traditional restaurants, has presented city council members with a petition from owners of sit-down restaurants who think that reform would energize Pittsburgh’s food scene, benefiting not only consumers and mobile vendors, but also restaurants themselves.

The bill would eliminate the proximity rule, allow food trucks to park in metered spots, and permit them to stay in one spot for up to four hours. Further, it would extend business hours on weekends past closing time for bars. The city council is expected to act on the measure before the end of the year.

Reason has applauded food truck decriminalization in Cleveland and Portland and boo-hissed officious regulation in Chicago, New York City, New Orleans, and Baltimore.

Courtesy of the Institute for Justice,* a libertarian public interest law firm that advocates against overly burdensome regulation of food trucks, here are some food truck owners offering their take on the state of the law:

*Disclosure: I am a former employee of the Institute for Justice.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    PITTSBURGH SUCKS

  • General Butt Naked||

    Oh, you know you lurv it n'at.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Yinz can go someplace else 'en.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I'm surprised Warty doesn't know the Franctuary people.

    They're hipster jesus freaks so it seems like they'd be acquainted. Small community and all that.

  • Bingo||

    BLACK AND YELLOW BLACK AND YELLOW BLACK AND YELLOW

  • pmains||

    Well, well, libertarians. Do you think ethnic food truck drivers will ever vote for smaller government? I see no direct evidence of that from my desk here, so the answer is clearly no. You've dug your own graves.

  • robc||

    Liberty is for even those who hate liberty.

  • robc||

    Actually, this article is about ethnic food truck drivers voting for smaller government.

    Removal of at least 2 regulations and loosening of others.

  • entropy||

    It's small ball though.

    We don't rack up victories as quickly as everyone else racks up atrocities.

    We can't protect our constitutional rights enshrined in the bill of rights. But hey, maybe we get a food truck.

    Fuck yeah, a food truck. Now we're free alright. I'm having a hard time caring right now.

  • robc||

    Little victories are still victories.

    And the key is to win these and then analogize. Explain to the food truck supporters that the same thing is true for Issue A or B or C.

  • Rick Santorum||

    Surely they have the attention span to listen to libertarians droning on about the free market. Why would they care when they can have OBAMAPHONE?

  • pmains||

    I was being facetious. The same argument has been advanced all day in various threads about ethnic minorities being unreachable for libertarian-minded candidates and that we might as well adopt socialism and/or put machine gun nests on the border in order to remain viable.

  • pmains||

    Also, I thought the "you've dug your own graves" comment was enough over the top to give away that I was joking.

  • ||

    Unfortunately, it's not possible to go more over the top than the true believers do.

  • Generic Stranger||

    And yet another piece of satire falls to Poe's Law.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    I tried to do my part to increase the libertarian birthrate by copulating with an H+R commenter, but it looks like rather is barren.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Did your dick fall off?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    It only hurt the first time.

  • robc||

    Tulpa is gonna be pissed.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I walk by three food trucks near the Pitt campus and they've been parked there for years, maybe they have an exemption or something. The food is pretty good and if you ask for it really spicy they actually make it really spicy (Indian and Thai).

    But yeah, what was I saying, umm yerp, Tulpa has mentioned eating at those carts before.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Yes, I'm quite surprised by this, considering that those trucks have vendor licenses from the city all over them, and signs saying "Vendor Parking Only" next to their spaces, that look exactly like other City of Pgh parking signs.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Aha. Near the end of the article:

    (As stationary vendors, established food trucks in Oakland near the universities fall under different regulations.)

    So it only applies to trucks that want to park in multiple places during the day.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    But yeah, what was I saying, umm yerp, Tulpa has mentioned eating at those carts before.

    Yep, I order the same thing every time I go there. The woman at the Thai truck puts my box together as soon as she sees me in line.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    I've always said that I welcome food trucks to the streets, but recognize that the street owner (ie the city) has the right to make rules about when/how/if they can operate. On private property it's none of the city's business IMHO (beyond the health and safety regulations that apply to all restaurants).

    The zoning board lady in the article disputes the claim that the city vetoes food trucks on private property, too.

  • ||

    the street owner (ie the city) has the right to make rules about when/how/if they can operate

    Except the government is supposed to represent the people, so the government shouldn't favor some businesses over others. These restrictions were pointless, except to protect other food businesses. Creating overly burdensome regulations for certain types of business is no better than providing more favorable terms for certain types of business. Their preference for building-bound food business over vehicle-bound food business is crony capitalism, plain and simple.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Except the government is supposed to represent the people, so the government shouldn't favor some businesses over others.

    But the point is, the brick and mortar restaurants are not on public property. This isn't arbitrary discrimination, it's simply saying that you can't use public property to run your business from at no cost.

    Does the fact that the government makes people pay for permits or feed parking meters when they park on the street, but doesn't charge people to park in their own driveways, mean that the govt is favoring some cars over others?

  • ||

    it's simply saying that you can't use public property to run your business from at no cost.

    And that's pointless and stupid. The only point is (and has been explicitly mentioned in several places as being) to favor the "brick and mortar" restaurants.

    Does the fact that the government makes people pay for permits or feed parking meters when they park on the street, but doesn't charge people to park in their own driveways, mean that the govt is favoring some cars over others?
  • ||

    Stupid comment cut off the rest:

    Does the fact that the government makes people pay for permits or feed parking meters when they park on the street, but doesn't charge people to park in their own driveways, mean that the govt is favoring some cars over others?

    Except that's not the distinction. They're treating food trucks differently from other vehicles simply because they sell food:

    "Food trucks are currently prohibited from parking in one spot for more than 30 minutes, in metered spaces (making most of the downtown area off limits), and within 500 feet of a restaurant."

    It's straight-up cronyism, plain and simple. You defending that on the grounds that they can do whatever they want is disrespectful to rule of law, and pretty sickening.

  • robc||

    Except that's not the distinction. They're treating food trucks differently from other vehicles simply because they sell food

    This. If they are willing to pay the meter, they should be able to park their truck right in front of a b&m selling the exact same thing.

    If its an unmetered space, they should be able to park in it for the same length of time any other parker is allowed.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    The point is that the parking spots are intended for people to leave their cars while patronizing nearby businesses or doing something else legitimate in the neighborhood. They're not intended as commercial real estate. And the meter payment is NOT a lease, it's a contribution to the costs of parking enforcement, so it confers zero property rights. That's settled case law.

    If the street owner wants to open up the parking spaces to commercial activity, fine. But I'm totally OK if they want to pick and choose what kinds of commerce will be allowed in those spots. I'm even more OK if they want to charge fees to the vendors to simulate the rent that a b&m establishment has to pay.

  • robc||

    The point is that the parking spots are intended for people to leave their cars while patronizing nearby businesses or doing something else legitimate in the neighborhood.

    Such as selling food.

    This is a legitimate purpose.

    They're not intended as commercial real estate.

    Its not commercial real estate, its a parking space. And what you do in your vehicle while you are parked is none of the government's fucking business.

    Ive done work while parked in a car. I wasnt using the space to partronize nearby businesses, but to have a place to make business phone calls and to log into servers and do work, while still being able to get back to traveling soon after.

    There is no difference than me using the space to do commercial IT work and food trucks using the space to do commercial restaurant work.

    And really, they are doing sales, and Ive seen spaces used by salesmen plenty of time.

  • robc||

    Im okay with you parking in a space and teaching math for a fee out of your vehicle too.

  • robc||

    The bigger point being that the government should be "content" neutral.

    Private organizations should be allowed to discriminate. The government shouldnt.

    Its the same thing here.

    And another thing -- while there is an argument in favor of the need for government roads, at least locally, there is no need for government parking. Parking can be entirely handle privately.

    The city of Pittsburgh should sell off their parking spaces to private owners who can meter it or restrict it however they want. Im sure storefronts would love to own the street spaces right in front.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    The city of Pittsburgh should sell off their parking spaces to private owners who can meter it or restrict it however they want. Im sure storefronts would love to own the street spaces right in front.

    They'd love the street spaces in front of their competitors even more, so they could put No Parking signs there. Or maybe even their neighbors, who they can extort for cash in order to open up the parking spaces.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    The govt has the authority to ban commercial IT work in a parking space too. Of course, it's pretty much impossible to enforce that without invading your privacy.

    You don't need to invade anyone's privacy to notice a food truck is selling food.

    And really, they are doing sales, and Ive seen spaces used by salesmen plenty of time.

    Selling things directly out of their cars? Parking and taking your wares around to nearby residents/businesses is no different from parking and going for a cup of coffee. It's not the same thing as actually using the vehicle as a place of business.

  • ||

    They'd love the street spaces in front of their competitors even more, so they could put No Parking signs there. Or maybe even their neighbors, who they can extort for cash in order to open up the parking spaces.

    You're assuming selling them off would result in a parking monopoly, or that only some restaurants would get parking. This is a false assumption.
    The stores right next to those parking places would be the ones to value them the most, so they'd end up buying them, even if they had to pay more.

    The govt has the authority to ban commercial IT work in a parking space too.

    Except again, there's no good reason for it. The only reason for it would be to "protect" building-bound IT businesses, and that's again an illegitimate reason.

    Parking and taking your wares around to nearby residents/businesses is no different from parking and going for a cup of coffee. It's not the same thing as actually using the vehicle as a place of business.

    Actually, NONE of these three things are very different from one another. Each of them uses the vehicle as a base of operations for sales. That some of them don't sell directly from the vehicle isn't a reason to restrict the others.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    The stores right next to those parking places would be the ones to value them the most, so they'd end up buying them, even if they had to pay more.

    You're begging the question here. If Giant Supermarket Chain, which owns its own parking lot, wants control of the street parking in front of Mom & Pop's Fruit Shop down the street, they're easily going to be able to outbid them for it, regardless of how much value M&P put on it.

  • ||

    The zoning board lady in the article disputes the claim that the city vetoes food trucks on private property, too.

    No, she says the food truck needs an occupancy permit rather than a mobile-vending permit. It's a difference in the kind of permit, not a claim the trucks don't need permission.

  • ||

    I had pierogi tonight. HOLY FUCK I LOVE PIEROGI.

  • ||

    It's awesome. Probably better home-made, though.

  • ||

    Or at Sokolowski's. Holy fuck Sokolowski's is awesome. Would you like two pounds of meatloaf with those pierogis? I would.

  • ||

    Oh yes.

  • General Butt Naked||

    A lot of the little churches around here make homemade pierogies to sell as a fund raiser. They have these little old eastern european cranking the things out and they are fucking awesome.

  • tagtann||

    Now that swhat I am talking about dude. Wow.
    www.Geek-Anon.tk

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Is it wrong to think that the "I love Pierogi" woman is hot?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Not wrong. Disturbing though.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    She's hot *and* she can cook!

  • ||

    No, she's cute enough. Plus she likes pierogi, that's a plus.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement