Interesting Stuff

The Birmingham Food Truck Debate


Lately I wonder how worse Birmingham, AL and Jefferson County can become.  Jefferson County has declared the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.  And the Birmingham Board of Education has become a laughing riot.  So what can Birmingham do to make its image worse?  Crackdown on food trucks.  Yes the City of Birmingham is proposing rules that would drive all the food trucks out-of-town forever.  Some of the proposed rules from the city will make it impossible to run a food truck in Birmingham.  Here is what the city is proposing to food truck operators.

  • Restrict food trucks and pushcarts from doing business within one block of any existing restaurant.
  • Limit hours of operation for trucks and carts to between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays within the City Center.
  • Require truck and cart operators to pay a $500 annual permit fee, plus $25 for each food­ service worker and an extra $300 to operate within the City Center.
  • Establish a Mobile Food Vendors Committee to create designated food zones where trucks and carts could operate.

Food trucks have been around since cars began driving on the road.  But many sources pinpoint 2008 as the unofficial onset of the food truck phenomenon.  Today, social media and TV shows like “The Great Food Truck Race” have made food trucks very popular.  This infographic from Mashable shows the rise of the food truck.

Food trucks offer variety to everyday brick and mortar restaurants.  Sure a couple of rules could be set up so the restaurants and the food trucks can co-exist.  Councilman Johnathan Austin said “What this ordinance attempts to do is establish order,” he said. “We’re not trying to push the food truck vendors out of business, but we’re also trying to protect the brick-and-mortar businesses.”  After a meeting with the rules committee Austin said he would consider easing the restrictive distance requirements in the ordinance.  “We don’t want to put any unnecessary burdens on the food truck vendors to make it as though we don’t want food truck vendors in the city, because we do,” he said.  “I’ve eaten at every one of them that was represented there, and all of them are good.  To have those choices and that variety makes for a much more fun downtown City Center to visit because you have these different options.”

Councilmen Steven Hoyt and Carole Smitherman have concerns that this ordinance would be an equal protection violation and an infringement on enterprise.  These are concerns that I have as well.  Why would a city pick and choose which businesses can make money and which businesses have to suffer.  I agree that food trucks should not set up right in front of a restaurant.  But if you limit their time they can sell they will not make enough money to operate.  Plus those proposed fees are crazy!  Food trucks are only going to get more popular as time goes on.

For now the Birmingham City Council has decided to put the food trucks ordinance back into committee.  I would bet the city council will bring back up this issue sometime soon.  Let’s just hope the city will be smart and not drive all of the food trucks away from Birmingham forever.