The Parking Ticket Problem
by Alecia Lynn Eberhardt
Reliance on the weather. Early mornings spent prepping for long days in a hot truck. Completely dead hours alternated with lines of hungry customers two blocks long. All of these are par for the course in New York City’s food truck industry. But the most frustrating part of the business? The parking tickets.
New York City’s “no vending from a metered parking space” rule—also known as Department of Consumer Affairs Title 6, Chapter 2, Subchapter Aa, Section 2-304, which reads “a general vendor shall not display, sell or offer merchandise for sale from any vehicle parked at a metered parking space”—has caused quite a headache for the city’s thriving food truck scene. It’s a “crazy system,” says Gareth Hughes, founder of Dub Pies. “We’re granted a permit by [the] city to vend on any city street, but if we do so from a metered spot we get fined”—even if they pay the meter. “The tickets are one of the worst parts of the business,” says Yankee Doodle Dandy’s owner Josh Gatewood.
And just how much money are these trucks spending on tickets? A NYC Food Truck Association survey conducted last month revealed that, on average, food truck owners spent $735 per month paying ticket fines (though the reported numbers ranged from $200 to $2,200). Other mobile, truck-based businesses, such as Fresh Direct, which delivers groceries in New York City, average only about $100 per month in parking tickets—and they rake in about $400,000 per year per truck, according to The New York World and BusinessWeek. For food trucks, which generally do far less revenue ticket costs can be devastating. “It raises our operating costs in a time that food truck revenues are declining,” says Susan Povich of Red Hook Lobster. “The tickets can be the difference between a profitable week and one where you lose money,” Gatewood explains.
It does seem to make some difference which neighborhoods the trucks choose, with SoHo and Midtown being particularly aggressive with enforcing the no vending rule. But these are also the neighborhoods with prime environments for food truck vending—high foot traffic and lots of working people in search of a low-cost, creative lunch. Plus, even those who don’t vend in these areas see tickets fairly regularly. We found that 85% of trucks surveyed were issued a ticket within the past week—and 54% were issued one within the past day. “We get tickets every day that we park on the street,” says Povich.
As an article published in the Times last summer pointed out, thanks to these parking restrictions, it’s “nearly impossible (even if you fill out the right paperwork) to operate a truck without breaking some law.” So what is a truck owner to do?
Some say that fighting the tickets in court can result in dismissed tickets or lowered fees, but that requires the owners—who are often a huge part of a small team—to spend the day away from the truck. The NYC Fleet Program is an option for any business using commercial vehicles—enrolling is free, and while it doesn’t eliminate tickets, it offers the ability for business owners to track and pay the fines online to avoid outstanding fees. Plus, enrolling in the program may lower ticket costs.
But it’s hard to see these solutions as anything other than Band-Aids, especially when other cities have enacted policy change in a truly positive direction for trucks. The New Orleans Food Truck Coalition has succeeded in securing entry to previously “banned” neighborhoods, gaining the ability to park in one spot for up to four hours (previous limit was 45 minutes), and decreasing the restaurant proximity restriction from 600 to 200 feet. In Boston, food trucks pay a monthly “rental fee” to the city for access to a set of truck-only parking spots; the average fee is about $500 per truck per month. It’s not cheap, but it’s less than the average monthly ticket fine in New York, and there are no police confrontations or court dates.
But New York City, one of the first cities to see a boom in modern food truck popularity, still lags behind.