Food truck rules need to be uniform

Published 11:15 am Wednesday, May 24, 2017

While food trucks are old news in larger cities like Austin, they seem to be relatively new around these parts and, from what I can tell, they’re quite a conundrum.
After some debate, Port Neches recently allowed food trucks to operate inside their city limits and, on Monday, we in Port Arthur were about to welcome one new food truck until confusion at the city’s health department killed that plan.
I’ve written in the past about food trucks and how much I appreciate them. They bring home-cooked quality and speedy service to their customers and I’d always prefer their fare to some fast food chain. So, I really hope our city officials will work hard to encourage more trucks to sell food.
The best solution would be for city officials throughout the county to get together and figure out some common policies. Because trucks are, well, trucks, their mobility means they could vend anywhere. Indeed, one imagines that truck owners would do exactly this as different cities host different events. However, different rules and regulations mean that truck owners must adhere to wildly different (and sometimes irrational) policies.
For instance, in Port Neches trucks cannot sell in front of businesses. While it makes sense that a truck should not sell in front of a restaurant, the idea of prohibiting a truck from selling outside a business that does not sell food seems odd—and even counter-productive. One can well imagine many scenarios wherein a business owner would invite a food truck to her place of business and in fact, a food truck might be nice during a downtown-shopping event.
In Port Arthur the rules are just as perplexing. For example, a food truck must be parked within 500 feet of public bathrooms. Why? Well, for the customers. I’d wager there are still gas stations selling snacks that don’t have public bathrooms but a food truck that doesn’t even offer seating, must offer bathrooms?
Of course, the real stumbling block in Port Arthur isn’t the numerous regulations but the lack of clarity in the process itself. We published a story about a man who had invested tens of thousands of dollars and spent years getting his food truck ready for prime time only to be stuck in a confusing morass of bureaucracy.
Food trucks provide a niche service that people enjoy and they can attract customers to area businesses. They are a simple proposition. One would think the city would have developed a one-stop shop for businesses owners—a single office wherein all questions could be answered and papers filed. Presumably we do not have so many businesses opening in the city that a single person could not handle this task.
Needless rules and vague guidelines should be avoided generally, but especially when it comes to something as simple as a food truck. Sure, the health department should inspect the trucks and employees should be made to wash hands and observe other health and safety routines but, again, this seems like a day’s work at best.
We heard a lot of talk over the past few months leading up to the election about downtown re-development. Clearing up the path to open a business would certainly help that endeavor and while a food truck or two isn’t going to revitalize downtown overnight, the challenges in opening a truck are symptoms of a larger issue.
Port Arthur and other cities need to have similar food truck laws and those laws need to be clear, sensible and simple.
Jesse Wright is editor of The Port Arthur News. You may contact him at

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