City Council bill targets Philadelphia food trucks

Food trucks line both sides of Manayunk's Main Street (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Food trucks line both sides of Manayunk's Main Street (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

Northeast Philly Councilman Brian O’Neill wants to ban sidewalk vendors in his district.

If the legislation gets the needed approval votes, it would be the second district-wide ban, making food trucks illegal in most of the Northeast.

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The proposed ban, introduced by O’Neill on March 4, targets old-school food trucks selling egg and cheese sandwiches and other fast meals.

Common in Center City and other dense sections of the city, these carts are increasingly setting up shop on commercial corridors in his auto-oriented district, he said.

The mobile businesses draw business away from brick-and-mortar establishments and don’t belong in his district, he said.

“You have a totally different atmosphere [in the Far Northeast],” said O’Neill, who is the only Republican district councilmember. “It’s a suburban thing. You never see vendors outside shopping centers in suburbs. They wouldn’t have it.

The new legislation expands previous restrictions that targeted select commercial section of O’Neill’s district.  No other council members have challenged the bill and it is unlikely that other legislators will intervene on such a district matter.

The move, however, sets a precedent that could harm vendors citywide, said Matt Rossi, owner of the Cow and the Curd food trucks and president of the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association, which represent food vendors in the city.

“It’s tough because the city limits us more and more as far as where we are allowed to be,” said Rossi, who also owns Nick’s Roast Beef on Cottman  Avenue, one of the areas where O’Neill said food trucks had become a problem. “To be shut down in an entire district is continuing to make it a challenge to do business in the city of Philadelphia.”

O’Neill says he only recently learned that the district to the southwest of his —now represented by Bobby Henon —  banned outdoor food sales from the entire district back in 1998.

“It’s probably something I should have done a while ago if I had known I could do the whole district,” said O’Neill. “The way my commercial areas are set up, you can just park in the street, in the parking lot and not pay rent. And then you are competing with a business that is paying rent. It’s unfair.”

A patchwork of rules limit street and sidewalk sales throughout the city.  But if O’Neill’s bill passes, brick and mortar restaurants in other parts of the city could pressure other district council members to impose more sweeping limitations.

Rossi said that’s an issue

“The funny thing is I own a restaurant …. and it does affect my business, so I see O’Neill’s point,” Rossi said. “But as there continue to be more and more limitations in the city, it’s going to get to what’s the point of even being in business here.”

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