City council has voted to allow more food trucks on Toronto streets, but the changes are a step back from the reforms endorsed by committee last month at the urging of street-food vendors.
The changes, made Thursday, came after a debate that stretched over two days and included dire warnings from some councillors about the threat to restaurants and public spaces posed by the street-food industry.
Councillor Josh Colle – who, along with Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, pushed for the changes – assured his colleagues that the reforms would not lead to "the Wild West." But some councillors warned that allowing trucks to roam the streets would cause friction among vendors that could descend into fisticuffs and lead to an increase in complaints, which would require more city staff.
Mayor Rob Ford advocated for less regulation, arguing that people who make a date to go to a restaurant don't change their mind and buy a hot dog when they pass a cart. "I think putting all this red tape around people, that's not very friendly," he said. "This is free enterprise. This is capitalism. Let them sell what they want and let the customer decide."
Council voted 34 to 3 for the changes, which open the door to roaming food trucks, allowing them to park in pay-and-display spots on city streets and to gather in private lots. But council imposed tight restrictions on the industry, capping the number of trucks allowed on the streets this year at 125 and limiting the time they can park in any one spot on the street at three hours, rather than the five hours recommended by the committee.
Council also agreed to prohibit trucks within 50 metres of restaurants. Street-food vendors wanted that area reduced.
All changes will be reviewed in one year.
Mr. Colle said he is pleased the city is moving forward, even if it is with "more timid steps" than he would like.
Ms. McMahon said the vote was, "very disappointing," noting that several of the councillors who voted against the measures represent downtown wards – the very areas, she said, where residents say they want more diversity in street food.
Mr. Colle said the 50-metre restriction will make it very difficult to park a food truck downtown, but they will be able to operate in private lots.
Restaurant and food-truck owner Zane Caplansky called Thursday's vote "a baby step forward."
While he cheered the new ability for food truck owners to operate out of public parks and parking lots, he said the 50-metre rule and three-hour limit would be "problematic."
"It's better than it was. It's progress. It's a step forward, and I think it's something that we can look at as baby steps, but certainly not the victory that we wanted."
The food truck decision follows years of attempts by vendors and the city to address its strict street food regulations.
In 2009, the city tried – and failed – to introduce variety to the street-food scene through the unsuccessful "A La Cart" program. That program, which required vendors to purchase a $30,000 cart and dictated where they could and could not set up, was cancelled after just a few years.