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Opinion

Op-Ed: Save the D.C. food trucks

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Opinion,Op-Eds

D.C.'s food truck craze first hit the streets a few years ago and has not slowed down since. Small business entrepreneurs are thriving and customers have more food choices than ever before.

New trucks offering the most unique food imaginable continue to pop up thanks to the demands of hungry tourists and downtown workers. Can't decide between Japanese or Mexican for lunch? There's a Japanese-Mexican fusion food truck for you.

These food trucks offering tasty on-the-go meals have quickly become a part of D.C's fast-paced culture. Leaving the office for an hour to eat a full meal at a sit-down restaurant is often not an option for busy Washingtonians. Capitol Hill staffers can barely find a second to get a bite of anything during their hectic, ever-changing schedules.

Nothing ruins a lunch date like an email from the boss saying that a congressional vote has unexpectedly been moved up -- and you have to drop your fork and leave ASAP.

Many of us enjoy being able to quickly grab our lunch curbside from a truck before running back to the office for back-to-back meetings. Tourists love them too. After the standard trips to Smithsonian and the White House, there's something special and fun about ordering sushi (or grilled cheese sandwiches, Chick-fil-A or lobster rolls) out of a trendy truck.

Sadly, D.C. food trucks may become a thing of the past. Mayor Vincent Gray has proposed cruel regulations that would ban food trucks from most downtown streets.

Here's the way it would work: The D.C. government would have a food truck lottery once a month. The handful of trucks that win the lottery will be allowed to serve customers on a few popular streets. Those that lose will be banned from selling food within 500 feet of lottery-assigned spaces and where there is less than 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk.

That doesn't leave a lot of space for food trucks to satisfy the appetites of city residents. Good luck finding more than 10 feet of sidewalk without a parking meter in the District.

Some owners of the food trucks have already said they will close down if the rules are approved by the D.C. Council. How can they afford to operate if they can't legally sell their food? They will have no choice.

The beauty of food trucks is that the relatively low barriers to entry empower the "everyday Joe." Most food truck owners are not rich or have a ton of experience in the food industry. They are just regular people who made big sacrifices to start their own small business from scratch.

Some entrepreneurs will succeed, others will fail. That's how competition in the marketplace works.

Customers should be the ones to determine the fate of a business. It should never be the government's job to pick winners and losers in the marketplace by favoring certain businesses over others.

The proposed regulations are designed to "help" brick-and-mortar restaurants by restricting their food truck rivals. Instead of competing and innovating in the marketplace, restaurant associations are lobbying the D.C. government for regulations that will wipe many food trucks out of existence.

The mayor and the D.C. Council should resist pressure from restaurant lobbyists and stand up for entrepreneurs who work hard to provide us with more food choices. Food trucks have created hundreds of jobs and brought convenience to D.C. dining. The city would be worse off without them.

Julie Borowski is a policy analyst for FreedomWorks.

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