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Groups mobilizing to change food-truck laws

A food-truck rally in East Liberty on Oct. 14 was more than just a group of mobile food vendors getting together to sell their cuisine. They were also assembling to sell a new industry to a city with onerous restrictions meant to keep them from operating.

The rally included five of Pittsburgh's newest trucks — BRGR, Zum Zum, Oh My Grill, Fukuda and Dozen Bake Shop — as well as the pioneer Franktuary Truck. The six businesses have banded together under the umbrella of a newly created coalition called PGH Mobile Food. 

With the backing of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice and newly proposed legislation by Pittsburgh City Councilor Bill Peduto, the coalition is fighting to change city rules that restrict their way of doing business. 

The rules governing how food trucks operate date back to 1987. Then, the city tightened the vending ordinance to restrict trucks from parking in metered spots and from parking within 500 feet of a business selling a similar product. The vendors are also required to move every 30 minutes. 

Peduto's proposed revisions eliminates the proximity requirements; increases the time a vehicle may stay in one spot to up to four hours; and allows vendors to park at meters as long as they wish, so long as they pay to do so. The changes, according to a Peduto spokesman, will be introduced at council's Oct. 24 meeting. A public meeting will also be held in the coming weeks.

Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalitions for the Institute for Justice, attended the Oct. 14 rally where Peduto announced his proposal. As a member of a team that travels to cities to help food-truck owners legally fight cities' regulations, she says Peduto's legislation was welcomed. 

"These food trucks have the right to compete with brick-and-mortar businesses," she says. 

For Tim Tobitsch, co-owner of the Franktuary Truck, the changes mean more certainty in the day-to-day operation. As it is, vendors take a gamble each time they set up their trucks within the city limits.

"It'll make it much easier to function legally," he says. "I don't think anyone wants to violate the laws."

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