George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity


By: The James Madison Institute / 2016

After debating the issue for almost a year, lawmakers in Sarasota County, Florida agreed to relax government restrictions on mobile food truck businesses.

The Sarasota County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a new ordinance in November relaxing restrictions on mobile food truck operations.

The old ordinance prohibited food trucks from operating within 800 feet of existing restaurants, and it required businessmen to seek government permission each time the owner wished to operate in a different location within the county.

The new ordinance removes those location restrictions, but it also limits where food trucks may operate in residential neighborhoods.

The ordinance, which took effect immediately after the commissioners’ approval, requires food truck owners to obtain permission from owners of private property on which the truck owner plans to operate. Food vendors must obtain lawmakers’ permission to operate on property owned by the government.

Keeping Competition at Bay

Sal Nuzzo,vice president of policy at The James Madison Institute, says government food truck restrictions are often used by well-connected insiders, such as restaurant owners, to keep competitors out of their market.

“Most of these regulations are nothing more than anti-competitive attempts to use the government as a barrier to competition,” Nuzzo said. “Especially with respect to local ordinances, most often those negatively affected are young and new entrants.”

Positive Economic Disruption

Nuzzo says lawmakers should not allow themselves to be captured and used to pass anticompetitive restrictions.

“Food trucks are a disruptive force to the existing market, and therefore they are earning the fire of anti-competitive regulations,” Nuzzo said. “This needs to be stymied so entrepreneurs can be encouraged, as opposed to eliminated, from economic progress.”

Letting Neighborhoods Decide

Matthew Mitchell, directorof the Mercatus Center’s Project for the Study of American Capitalism, says lawmakers should allow groups of people to set their neighborhoods’ norms, including food truck rules, instead of enacting top-down regulations.

“The private homeowners’ associations and private communities can choose to adopt rules to choose to say they do or don’t want food trucks on their property,” Mitchell said. “They can come to their own conclusions about this.”

Mitchell says allowing neighbors to negotiate how their neighborhood should operate is better than central government planning.

“As long as private property is respected, then people will come to the efficient solution of bargaining with one another,” Mitchell said. “The idea is … that people are allowed to exclude food trucks from their property if they want or permit them if they want.”