The Taco Truck Menace


The New York Times reports that the city council of Salinas, California, is considering a ban on taco trucks and other food-serving vehicles:

Mr. Callihan [the senior deputy city attorney] said the city's main concern has always been public health and safety, especially since an E. coli scare last fall when tainted spinach was traced to farms in this region.

"There is a huge concern around here because of E. coli," Mr. Callihan said. "It happened after the vendor issue came up. But it fed into it and our need to make sure food is safe."

City officials, though, note that no Salinas vendor has been linked to a health scare, prompting some taco truck advocates to call the rationale for the ordinance "a smoke screen."

A smoke screen for what? Well, "the harshest complaints came from restaurateurs, who said that the trucks had an unfair competitive advantage, fostered urban blight, blocked traffic and were sometimes unsanitary." But mainly that first thing: "We have way more overhead," restaurateur Antonio Campos told the Times, "and the competition is not on a level playing field."

Leaving aside the assumption that the government should protect Campos' livelihood by banning his competition, it's not as if a taco truck is completely interchangeable with a Mexican restaurant. The restaurant has "way more overhead" because it provides a sit-down dining experience and (probably) a bigger menu, features that attract customers who want more than a quick lunchtime bite. The taco trucks could just as well complain that Campos has an "unfair advantage" because he has tables, chairs, and a roof.

According to Callihan, the city is not shutting down the mobile taco vendors at the behest of their competitors. In fact, it is not shutting them down at all: "We don't want to put these people out of business. We want to move them off the street and put them into brick and mortar establishments." In other words, we want to force them out of the business they've chosen and into one they would otherwise avoid. Maybe the city should instead require Campos to close his restaurant and buy a taco truck.