Arlington County should move quickly to resolve its legal confrontation with local food truck vendors. The food trucks provide a popular lunch alternative for people who work in the close-in Virginia suburbs. They have recently faced aggressive enforcement by county police of ambiguous rules that only allow them to serve their ware for 60 minutes in any given space.
The Washington Examiner's Taylor Holland reported Monday that county police have been enforcing the old but rarely enforced rule. Not only does the 60-minute rule give the trucks barely any time to sell their food once they've set themselves up, but it's also unclear how far the trucks must move after the 60 minutes are up to remain in compliance.
The rules are intended to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants, which count on having an oligopoly when it comes to local workers' food options. This doesn't really work out for anyone. If the mere presence of a food truck causes a restaurant to lose a substantial amount of business, it's probably a sign that that restaurant needs to improve its menu or its service, or both.
The Institute for Justice is now intervening on behalf of the food trucks to get them representation. IJ is known for taking up the cause of small-business owners and property owners who are targeted by unjust or unwarranted regulations that have been cooked up to protect big incumbent businesses. As IJ's Bert Gall pointed out, "There aren't any health and safety rules the trucks are breaking. ... It's discrimination against the food trucks."
To give some idea of what is at stake, IJ is also involved in a fight over food trucks in Chicago. The City Council there has barred the trucks from parking within 200 feet of stationary restaurants. As a map on IJ's website shows, that rule essentially forbids food trucks everywhere in that city's downtown area, because nearly every square foot is covered by some restaurant's 200-foot radius.
There seems to be some hope that Arlington County will not go down this path, and will instead seek a just solution. Local government has an appropriate role to play in the food business when it comes to protecting consumers' health and safety. But the mere protection of incumbent businesses against competitors is not part of that role. It's time for the laws to change to allow more, not less, consumer choice.