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Vancouver mayoral candidate aims to double food truck count

Mark Marissen's plan finds pushback from restaurant sector
Mark Marissen is running for mayor of Vancouver with the Progress Vancouver party.

Vancouver mayoral candidate Mark Marissen has promised to double the number of food truck permits in Vancouver and cut the city out of the approval process for food-truck menu items.

"If I become the mayor, I would double the number of food trucks, double the number of permits to allow for the food trucks and get city hall out of the way of micromanaging what you eat," the Progress Vancouver candidate said today in a video he posted to Twitter

In recent years, the city has sold more than 90 food-truck permits for designated spots, and around 70 mobile, or roaming permits, for other trucks. 

Marissen also took aim at the fact that the City of Vancouver's engineering department must approve changes to food-truck menus.

"I don't know if the engineering department should know what kind of food to be serving," he said. "I think you as a consumer should know."

BIV asked BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association CEO Ian Tostenson if the city should double its number of food-truck permits. 

"No," said Tostenson, who was involved in helping craft the City of Vancouver's 2011 food-truck pilot program. "That's not a great idea."

Tostenson's work helped the city mandate requirements to protect the city's bricks-and-mortar restaurants.

Food trucks, for example, must keep 100 metres away from restaurants and food vendors in parks.

"There are also rules around selling the same types of products," Tostenson said. "You can't have a pizza food truck next to a pizza restaurant."

He said that getting city hall to approve new menu items might be "a dumb idea," if they are micromanaging – as Marissen alleges – but the point of the menu approvals was to make sure that a pizza food truck does not morph to become a taco food truck. 

Tostenson said that he believes even food truck operators would not want more food trucks in operation because it would cut into their business. 

The city mandates where food trucks can operate to avoid situations where there are too many trucks in one area for those operators to make profits.

Marissen wants the market to decide what trucks survive. After all there are no limits on the number of restaurants that can operate in the city. 

"That's an interesting point except that setting up a restaurant is 10 times more expensive than getting a food truck," Tostenson said. "Trucks are cheap, but setting up a bricks-and-mortar restaurant with a lease and staff is way different."

He said that while many in the industry were initially opposed to food trucks, there became a realization that the trucks could encourage people to eat outside offices more, because of convenience.

Getting a quick bite at a food truck is a different experience from sitting down to a meal in a restaurant, he explained. 

When the food-truck program was relatively new, some restaurant owners complained to BIV that they, and neighbouring businesses, paid as much as $9,000 monthly in lease payments to operate on busy strips. They then paid patio, business and garbage collection fees.

Food truck operators, conversely, needed only to pay maintenance on their vehicles and annual city permit fees, one restaurant owner said in 2013

Annual city fees for food trucks are now $1,273 plus goods and services tax (GST). 

Food truck operators, in contrast, say that their costs are high because they need to pay hourly parking fees, garbage collection and fees for production facilities. 

Food truck operators usually prepare food in a commissary to abide by health inspection requirements and therefore incur costs that add up, said Vikram Vij in 2013. Vij has experience owning the bricks-and-mortar restaurant Vij's as well as operating food trucks.

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