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A few points to add to the op-ed below, which was originally published in the London Free Press in June 2013:
- The fair taxation issue should be considered in context. Yes, food trucks do not pay property tax. But they also don't have the amenities or the services that come with having an indoor location: hydro, plumbing, bathrooms, seating, weather protection, climate control, etc.
- The Mayor's proposed $2,620 licence fee is ~3.7% of the cost of a $70,000 food truck. Using the business licence fee as a pseudo property tax on food trucks is not wise.
- The current proposal is for 12 food trucks in a city of 367,000 people, hundreds of restaurants and dozens of markets and grocery stores. There's room for all kinds of food service businesses in our city.
- The slowness of our decision-making on this issue is unacceptable. We need to speed things up.
Unnecessary hurdles infuriating
The issue of food trucks is becoming a telling example of how good intentions and indecision can get in the way of ideas that might make our city better.
Food trucks are proving to be quite popular in cities like Calgary, Hamilton and Vancouver. Municipalities throughout the country are responding to the trend — some faster than others. More than 850 people (edit: now 1,060+) have signed a petition on the Better London website calling for food trucks here in London.
At first glance, the issue is fairly straightforward: entrepreneurs are looking to operate food trucks in London and are seeking bylaw changes that will give them a chance to test the market during a pilot project.
Two weeks ago, staff proposed a pilot project that would see three food trucks allowed around Victoria Park, but only during certain hours and certain months of the year, and not during any festivals, when there are a lot of people in the park.
Members of a city council committee heard from the public on the issue and asked staff to come back with a more market-friendly, less restrictive approach.
Mayor Joe Fontana spoke strongly in favour of making the pilot project more open. Interestingly, no restaurant owners spoke against the idea at the public meeting in May.
But now that same committee has asked staff to make further changes, including a menu-vetting process, which has further delayed the pilot project.
Some councillors are concerned about competition between food trucks and existing restaurants. Some are also worried that food trucks, being mobile, will not have to pay property taxes as other restaurants do, and that this would give them an unfair advantage. One way of mitigating the property tax avoidance issue, a legitimate concern, would be for the city to auction the food truck permits to determine the market value.
The current approach to micro-governing a specific kind of business is a classic example of a regulatory barrier to competition that is pro-status quo and existing businesses, anti-progress and anti-consumer. If we want creativity and innovation in our city, we need to embrace change, not fear it.
Londoners have demonstrated some interest in seeing food trucks in the Forest City. Food truck entrepreneurs want a pilot project that isn’t too small to succeed and existing restaurant owners are worried that they may lose business. City council should get out of the way and let the buyers and sellers of food figure it out in the marketplace.