City loosens food truck restrictions

Mobile food vendors to be allowed in more locations, but critics say new rules don't go far enough

Food trucks will now roam freer on the streets of Toronto, after council voted 34-3 on Thursday to relax regulations for mobile food vendors.

Food trucks will be permitted city-wide in pay-and-display parking spaces, commercial parking lots, and curb-side spots designated by the city licensing department. The regulations replace previous bylaws that only permitted trucks at special events and a few spots downtown and barred them from neighbourhoods outside of old Toronto.

Councillor Cesar Palacio, head of the licensing committee, said the new regulations were “what people wanted.”

“At the end, common sense prevailed,” he told reporters.

But council stopped short of endorsing proposed rules that would have given food trucks much more latitude to operate. Under pressure from the restaurant industry, they voted 24-13 to prohibit food trucks from setting up within 50 metres of an open bricks-and-mortar eating establishment, meaning the vehicles will effectively be banned from many major streets downtown. A motion for a 25-metre rule and another one that would have given trucks free range to park anywhere but directly in front of a restaurant were both voted down.

Food trucks will also be prohibited from remaining in the same location for more than three hours and be limited to two trucks per block. That goes against a decision from councillors on the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee, who last month endorsed a five-hour limit and recommended no cap on how many trucks could be on the same block.

Despite objections from truck owners, local councillors and Business Improvement Associations will also have a say where the vendors will be prohibited, another move the committee was against.

The new rules come after years of fruitless attempts to loosen limitations on food trucks, including the disastrous A La Carte program that was plagued by red tape and scrapped in 2011. For some critics the debate over the issue has come to symbolize an unnecessarily restrictive and bureaucratic culture at City Hall.

Councillor Josh Colle, who advocated for more liberal regulations, said he was determined to put a positive shine on the vote.

“We’re moving forward with more timid steps than I would like but at least we’re starting to move in the right direction and we will have better choices on our streets this season,” he said. Things overall are improving, but “there’s an embedded institution at City Hall where we want to over-regulate.”

Zane Caplansky, owner of the popular Thunderin’ Thelma smoked meat sandwich truck, said he had been hoping for greater deregulation, but added “I can make anything work.”

“I can’t say that I’m thrilled. It’s a baby step forward,” he said. “We get an opportunity to show city council that food trucks and restaurants can get along just fine”

Not everyone was as positive about the day’s results.

Helen Antonopoulos, who owns the Food Cabbie truck, said the 50-metre rule will make it difficult for her to find a decent spot on the street. And with set-up and clean-up time, the three-hour limit will mean she can only serve food for about 45 minutes.

“The grill has to get hot, the deep fryer has to get hot. That takes time,” she said. “You can’t just park and within a few minutes be ready.”

A half-dozen food truck proprietors rallied support for their cause on Wednesday by pulling up to Nathan Phillips Square at lunch time. Many of the hundreds of customers who lined up to sample their fare said they welcomed having options besides the hot dogs and sausages that dominate Toronto’s street food.

“I’m all for it,” said Meghan Hrenyk as she contemplated a basket of beer battered mahi-mahi tacos from the Gourmet Gringos truck. “It keeps the city more lively. You see people out on the streets as opposed to inside.”

Staff estimate that the new rules, which take effect May 15 and will be reviewed in one year, will create 350 new vending spaces across the city.

Council voted to limit the number of mobile food vendor permits the city gives out to 125 over the next 12 months, inclusive of the 27 truck owners that already hold permits. | @BenSpurr

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