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Food trucks

Participation rate in pilot 'disappointing'

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The participation rate in the Columbus food-truck pilot program is being described as a disappointment.

Nearly two months since the program was launched, only eight trucks have received the proper certification to operate in the pilot-program zones, said Amanda Ford, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, which is overseeing the licensing part of the effort.

Officials had originally estimated that there were 150 trucks operating in the city; the local industry sees that number somewhere closer to 55.

Nevertheless, if the latter figure is accurate, the number of purveyors who qualified is right around 15 percent.

"We're disappointed that more vendors have not taken advantage of the pilot program," Ford said. "The lack of participation tells us this may not be the right approach for Columbus."

Ford said many food-truck operators had been rejected from participating because they didn't pass the various levels of inspection. All vendors are required to spend $150 for a commercial sales license, an associated $10 application fee, $32 for a background check and $5 for an ID card.

Ford said she doesn't believe the city has made it too difficult for food-truck owners.

"The vendors would feel more comfortable if we had a reservation system," she said. "It's not that we're saying it's a bad idea. We wanted to see what worked in Columbus."

An electronic reservation system would require the purchase of software and coordination of schedules, something city officials don't feel is necessary right now, she said.

The city has set aside 16 metered spaces, large enough to accommodate most trucks, in the Short North, Downtown and the Arena District. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The rules do not affect food trucks operating on private property.

Because the pilot program is technically a function of Columbus City Council, the public safety department is not recommending any changes thus far, Ford said.

"At this point, we're just kind of working with them and generating some ideas with them," she said.

The city, in implementing the program, had sought to strike a balance between brick-and-mortar restaurants and food-truck vendors, while preserving parking spaces for customers and residents, she said.

"I'm not certain we can make everybody happy, but we have to come up with something that's fair to everybody," Ford said.

Mark Tolentino, owner of Mya's Fried Chicken, said he's conflicted about the program.

"I don't want to come out against a person's right to make money," he said. "At the same time, I don't think the rules should be bent, or should be changed, to accommodate a business owner."

Tolentino's food truck is located on private property at North High Street and Pacemont Road.

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