Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Food fight

Mobile eateries offer an exciting street vibe in a city that could use a boost, if they’re properly regulated

Toledo should embrace food trucks as appealing and innovative options for people who live, work, and play downtown. The vehicles must be regulated to preserve public health and safety, but the fees and rules should not be so prohibitive as merely to eliminate competition for established restaurants.

Cities across the country are expanding food-truck options with great success. The mobile businesses add buzz to a downtown area, often because workers grow weary of limited restaurant choices. But food-truck owners typically aren’t in the business of bumping off sit-down restaurants; they offer a different service and experience.

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This week, Toledo City Council returned to Mayor D. Michael Collins proposed new rules that would require food-truck operators to apply for permits that could cost as much as $1,000 per year, obtain $1 million in liability insurance, operate only during certain hours and in certain locations, and not to park within 100 feet of entrances to established restaurants. Council members are right that the rules need more work.

The proposal would create what city officials call “competitively” restricted zones for food trucks at various downtown sites. Such zones could foster an irrational fear of competition in a downtown that could use more gourmet and casual dining options.

City officials must listen to restaurateurs and food-truck proprietors, and examine how food trucks have worked in other cities. The trucks should be regulated for safety and sanitary requirements, and must be approved by Lucas County’s health department. But a $1,000 fee for that clearance seems excessive.

Though there doesn’t seem to be much popular opposition to the trucks, it’s important to keep regulatory restrictions to a minimum. Food trucks are popular because they offer a way for start-up chefs with little capital to test their dishes on consumers. They also encourage useful pedestrian traffic.

City officials must not drag their feet in approving fair and proper food-truck standards. Summer is the height of their popularity, and vendors should not have to endure weeks or months of red tape to operate. In Cleveland, legislation created a special permit for food trucks that entails one application, one license, and a fee of about $150.

Toledoans — elected officials, business owners, and consumers — should embrace new industries such as food trucks. They offer an exciting street vibe in a city that could use a boost. Some of the most successful businesses in other cities began as pop-ups. They are essential to any vibrant urban center.

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