Our View: Food trucks need freedom to flourish
Amid the hubbub surrounding food trucks' potential effect on existing restaurants, the question of how deep into the night they should be allowed to operate has gone largely unremarked upon. We simply assumed the trucks would operate when and where they are most needed, namely, after bars close.
That changed during Monday night's Rochester City Council meeting, when Sgt. Jon Turk, supervisor for the Rochester Police Department's community action team, voiced concerns about downtown food trucks operating after bars close at 2 a.m. and how that might stretch his team's well-calibrated resources in the entertainment district on weekends.
"The later the food trucks would stay, the later people are going to stay, we would have to be extending the hours of the officers working there, and currently, those are overtime hours, so we would be extending overtime for that," Turk told the council.
He threw out two ideas — close trucks down at 1 a.m. and corral their zones of operation to align with the existing district his team patrols. Turk's team excels in the thankless task of managing post-party shenanigans once bars close. Dispersing stumbling masses into new territory won't help those efforts, so we agree wholeheartedly with his assertions regarding location.
Restricting hours of operations, though, would hinder the positive effects food trucks could have on the city's livability. The most glaring omission from Rochester's downtown night life is edible sustenance for nocturnal revelers.
We already know millenials flock to Minneapolis on the weekends, and some of that comes from the whiff of restrictiveness emanating from downtown Rochester. However, there is no curfew for adults, so the demand for ultra-late cuisine is apparent to anyone downtown after bars close for the morning.
Rather than focusing on potential unruliness, we think policy should allow flexibility for post-midnight hours. Problems can be assuaged if they arise.
"If you try to over-regulate this from the beginning, you'll kill it, and you'll never know what it could do for the city," said Abe Sauer, a food truck enthusiast, at Monday's meeting, "Mobile food vendors have the flexibility to fill service gaps in downtown Rochester that they can find and fill."
Again, flexibility is key. Some trucks may never want to operate downtown, and some might not want to operate past midnight. Trucks opting to do business downtown during weekday lunch hours likely will pay a premium by being forced to pay at the meter for spots they occupy; perhaps trucks operating into the wee hours could pay an increased fee to cover the cost of police overtime.
There is also the issue of litter; careless people strewing trash around benefits no one. Restriction is just one way to address that problem, though, and not the most creative. Using food-truck fees to modify the environment with sculptural trash receptacles could make it more entertaining to get trash where it should go and use people's inebriated state to the city's advantage.
As Turk said, "The department will also adapt to whatever is decided," and we think the council needs to consider the needs and wishes of people who live out their hopes and dreams on the pre-dawn streets as much as anyone else.