[UPDATE BELOW] A bill being introduced in the City Council today would make it a lot harder for food trucks to find a spot to sell their delicious wares. Councilmember Margaret Chin is introducing legislation to crack down on food trucks that operate in front of a fire hydrant. The law would prohibit mobile food vendors from operating within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, fining them $250 for a first offense and $500 for a second offense within a six month period—at which point the vehicle would be impounded by the NYPD.
“Every year, when the weather gets warm, I receive complaints about ice cream trucks and other mobile food vendors that park at fire hydrants for hours on end,” Chin says. “Not only is guaranteeing unfettered access to fire hydrants a public safety issue, but the proliferation of mobile food trucks poses very real quality of life issues, including noise and fumes from generators and vehicle exhaust. It is imperative that we update and strengthen regulations as mobile food trucks become more prevalent in our City."
Finding a lucrative location to park is already one of the biggest challenges facing food trucks, so obviously street vendors are pretty worried about this. Sean Basinski, Executive Director of the Street Vendor Project, tells us, "Right now, under city law, food truck vendors have no place to legally park and serve their customers. That needs to change. Before it starts impounding food trucks, the City should focus on creating parking spaces where vendors can vend legally. We look forward to working with Councilmember Chin and others on this issue."
Chin did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but Ben Van Leeuwen sure did. [See below for a statement from Chin's spokesperson.] Van Leeuwen, who operates ice cream trucks and brick-and-morter ice establishments, breaks down why vendors think this proposed law is so ill-conceived:
The logic behind it is questionable. On our ice cream trucks, for example, we use Honda EU3000 generators. They burn 1.5 gallons of fuel in a 14 hour day. This is a minuscule amount of exhaust when compared with regular traffic flow near any of the fire hydrant spots that would be desirable enough for a food truck to park at. Our generators, and those of most other food trucks are ultra quiet. Ours operate at 58 decibels and are then installed in a sound dampening box. Their sound is virtually unnoticeable in a normal New York City street environment.
The council woman's point about "guaranteeing unfettered access to fire hydrants a public safety issue," also concerns us. There is always someone working on a mobile food truck, therefore it can be moved almost instantaneously in the event that a fire hydrant has to be utilized. A food truck standing at a fire hydrant in fact guarantees this, as it prevents illegal parking. We park at a fire hydrant in SOHO on weekends. It generally takes us an hour to get the spot as people park illegally in front of them while they do their shopping.
These "very real real quality of life issues" that the councilwoman claims as a result of food trucks are not valid. Her quote "as mobile food trucks become more prevalent in our city," is also worrisome to us. Since the 1980s the City of New York has not issued a single new mobile vending permit, thus the number of mobile vendors has remained the same, so how are mobile food trucks becoming more prevalent?
It fascinates us to see a bill like this be proposed, as its claimed motive is easily disproven, thus suggesting it being no more than an unfair reaction to a growing stigma against food trucks in New York City.
And Adam Sobel, the owner of the outstanding vegan food truck Cinnamon Snail, called us from India to voice his objection to the bill. "There are so many commercial vehicles on the streets doing business that the fact that this is specific to food trucks is indicative of the City Council's intent," says Sobel. "For instance, it's much more of a hazard if a Fed Ex driver parks by a fire hydrant and leaves for an hour than if a manned food truck is parked by a fire hydrant."
Sobel believes Chin's proposal is motivated by business owners who are irrationally threatened by food trucks. "Business improvement districts have had a problem with food vendors the city since the early '80s, and they've been trying to find any silly reason they can to prevent food vendors from being out on the street," Sobel argues. "They dug up this old-ass law that said you can't peddle merchandise on the street, and they went to court to change the definition of merchandise to include food.
"It's so silly. There are not many food trucks in the city; including the old halal food trucks I think there are maybe 120 for all five boroughs. It's not this epidemic that Business Improvement Districts claim it to be."
Update 1:55 p.m.: Chin's spokesperson tells us, "The issues associated with food trucks - noise from generators and exhaust - are very real issues that this office has received many, many complaints, about especially in Soho and Greenwich Village which have been undated by mobile food vendors. It is the Council Member’s job to represent her constituents and their concerns in the City Council.
"In a food truck, the operator is not sitting in the driver’s seat. They are usually in the back of the vehicle, or they could be outside the vehicle entirely. In light of the fact that these vehicles are known to block fire hydrants for 8 to 10 hours or more, it is important that we prohibit food trucks from doing this."