Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Look Back at London's Food Truck Debacle


Here we go again. The London City Council is ready to revive the discussion on food trucks in London. As reported by the London Free Press Wednesday, city councilors are reviving the proposal the previous council rejected. Mayor Matt Brown and Councillor Josh Morgan are expected to be pro-food trucks and propose that city staff spend the next month reviving the plan with a view to launching a pilot program this summer. The request is expected to go to the Community and Protective Services Committee tonight.

Last year, the London Food Truck Pilot reignited debate and Community and Protective Services Committee  voted 5-0 to refer the food truck pilot proposal back to a special meeting. The issue has been a hotly debated for two years.  Among the more disappointing proposals was a recommended cap of 12 trucks and a lottery for licences.

City council eventually decided, by an 8-6 vote, not to permit food trucks on City of London streets. The unanticipated decision came after months of contentious debate, five reports, and three trips to council, two of which resulted in recommendations back for more information. The proposal had earlier been significantly tightened by the community and protective services committee, mostly a result of the intervention of Mayor Fontana.  The Mayor  who was initially pro-food trucks, called for a food truck ban  on Richmond Row, Old East Village, Wortley Road and Byron. The Mayor’s subsequent amendments to the proposal: higher fees, larger buffer zones and earlier closings.
Several of the councilors who opposed food trucks did so because they claimed they believed them to be a threat to the financial health of existing restaurants in the downtown core. The amended proposal would have capped the number of trucks at eight, levied an annual license fee of $2,865, and required a 50-meter (about 150 feet) separation from any existing restaurant, double previous proposals. The amended proposal reduced the number of potential downtown sites from 222 to 50, eliminating almost all of Richmond Ave.
Two years ago, London City Council agreed to get public feedback on a proposed program to allow food trucks. The proposal worked its way between city departments for months and has been refined and revised along the way to avoid the bureaucratic red tape that plagued Toronto’s unsuccessful food truck initiative. 

Initially, Ethan Ling, City Policy Coordinator, stated that an impartial food truck advisory review panel made up of local food industry experts was expected to provide knowledgeable opinion and recommendations regarding food truck strategy in London. In addition, the panel was anticipated to be charged with encouraging culturally diverse and original menu offerings, and endorsing the promotion of healthy eating. But the report that went to politicians stated that menu-vetting (read micro-managing) is too complicated to be part of London’s food-truck plan. 

Under last years rejected proposal, City staff would be able to designate locations based on such things as proximity to restaurants, schools and neighbourhoods. It suggested a 25-metre buffer zone separating food trucks from existing restaurants. Food trucks were also required to keep their distance 100 metres from schools, and vendors will be required to keep a log of their whereabouts.  Food trucks will be required to close for business between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. 

The proposed food truck by-law amendments appeared to provide reasonable recommendations and safeguards making the pilot much more accessible to entrepreneurs. However, it was and still is too early to try to define what the food truck streetscape will look like in London. There are 27 licences granted for trucks to serve food on private property, just metres from the street. Last year’s decision does not affect them.

After the failure of the proposal, Ethan Ling, City Policy Coordinator, said “There are still opportunities for  ‘refreshment vehicles’ – as they are dubbed in London – to operate on private property, parking lots, festivals, carts on sidewalks, etc.  So notwithstanding this decision, I hope that area entrepreneurs and food lovers can still find ways create, deliver and consume innovative, exciting and boundary-pushing cuisine from trucks, carts, stands or wherever.”

Commenting on City Council’s decision, Ontario Food Trucks tweeted, “Even if it would've passed, it was too restrictive and expensive! Protectionism hurts all!"

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