Turner Trapp

Working at the Show-Me Institute, located in the highly walkable Central West End, my colleagues and I often take short walks to lunch. Recently, food trucks have entered the competition for our dining dollars.

Given the large crowds that form around these trucks, they seem to be a hit, but apparently this is not the case for everyone. This week, police have cracked down on food trucks in the area — allegedly in response to a complaint.

A regulation in the city code forbids street vending within the Central West End, but until recently the restriction had not been enforced. Earlier this week, officers and inspectors issued warnings to multiple food trucks asking them to leave the area or face fines for violating vending regulations.

Christine Harbin, a former SMI policy analyst, wrote numerous times on these restrictions on private enterprise. First spotting food trucks in the Central West End back in March, she later followed up on the issue in a video interviewing both food truck owners and their customers. The verdict is still clear: there exists a strong consumer demand for these food trucks. Why should government inhibit healthy competition and growth of consumer choices?

Some people worry about the safety and health concerns associated with food trucks, but like any other restaurant or food provider, they must undergo government health and safety inspections to obtain permits for legally selling their goods.

Another common concern is the potential increase in street congestion. In Dr. Donald Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking, he explains the best way to manage street traffic is to introduce market determined parking fees.  Parking is not a free good, and should not be treated as one. Busy streets with more traffic and higher demand would have higher parking fees, while quiet less crowded streets with lower demand would cost less. This would force food trucks to internalize the externality of over consuming street parking.  If the trucks wanted prime location they would have to pay extra for it.

These trucks may be “technically illegal” in the area, but clearly there is a demand here that the government is barring. Originally, the downtown area had this same restriction, but now it benefits from many popular street vendors and food trucks. Why should the Central West End or any other area be treated differently?

Consumers would benefit if this restrictive ordinance was repealed throughout St. Louis, allowing their preferences -- not the preferences of bureaucrats -- to dictate food trucks’ placement and success.

To follow this issue further, watch Christine’s other video on the subject in which food truck owner Jeff Pupillo and a number of customers weigh in on food trucks and the unwanted competition they provide for some local restaurants.

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Turner Trapp