New by-law for street vendors and patios

It's hard out here for a taco truck. New City by-law may make it a bit easier. The vote brought out some spirited voices from the business community and public alike.

Speakers at vote for new street vendor by-law
Vote on new by-law governing street vendors and patios brought passionate input from the public.

Street hustle, patio shuffle

Vancouver's streets are changing. Specifically, how our food trucks and street vendors do business; and how long we get to hang out on patios during those warm summer evenings.

Vancouver is now on the worldwide street-food map. Great. Now, how do we not only stay there but also step up our game? A new by-law passed by City Council will hopefully put us on that path, clarifying rules around street trade and protecting those who have taken the plunge to start a curbside business.

The main aspects of the new by-law are as follows:

  • Street vendor permits must be operated by the permit-holder: no more renting out your permit to someone else.
  • More stringent permit limits: Only three food permits per holder, or four across food and non-food carts or trucks.
  • Selling a street-vendor permit is prohibited: however, it can be passed on with City approval.
  • Some patios will enjoy later hours this summer as the City experiments with after-dark street life. The single detached patio on Carrall and Cordova will also remain open.
  • Street displays will be able to feature products that didn't grow in the dirt: things like books or toys.

Horses in that race

The public had a chance to weigh in before the vote, and most of the speakers were involved in the food truck or -cart game in some way.

Charles Gauthier, President & CEO of the Downtown Vancouver BIA, spoke in favor of the upcoming changes: "I can be a bit of a pain in the derriere sometimes on these issues, [but I'm] happy to say that we're almost there in terms of the changes we're looking for."

Charles Gauthier, Downtown Vancouver BIA
Charles Gauthier

Gauthier's focus was on street vending, as would be the case with all of the speakers."  He was cautious about letting new applicants get the full number of available permits all at once, saying, "Ease them into getting those street permits" to ensure they'll be good operators."

Gauthier also wanted more details on program enforcement, including City attention to the "nighttime economy": those vendors who mostly come out at night, mostly.

As would other speakers, Gauthier pointed out that the revamped street-vendor program should only featuring local non-food products.

Jason Apple from Gourmet Syndicate Inc. was also in favour of the rewritten by-law. "There are without question some very bad operators out there," he noted, "The changes set forth make a whole lot of sense."

Jason Apple, Gourmet Syndicate
Jason Apple

The issue of proximity, Apple said, needs to be looked at "with some granularity" to explore what "similar product" is. Are butter chicken schnitzel and chicken souvlaki too similar? This is not a rhetorical question, as Apple found out.

He also spoke to the issue of renting curb space from other permit-holders, having had to rent a spot because he "didn't win the lottery, so to speak. [...] We know that the locations we have on Burrard are great at times on sunny weekends, but horrible during the week." Gourmet Syndicate would be out of business, he said, if it were stuck solely in those locations.

He added that mobile vendors have seen interest from surrounding municipalities. What about inter-city business licenses?

Salad vs salad

Andrew Fielding, President of the Streetfood Vancouver Society, struck a somewhat rare tone: "Thanks for the exhaustive consultation you guys provided." His stable of trucks are "mom-and-pop-sized operations," providing the city with extra vibrancy. "The vast majority of our membership supports the by-law change, especially when it comes to not renting out permits."

He also wonders how you'd identify similar food products in a vendor vs brick-and-mortar dispute: What if salad appears on both menus?

Andrew Fielding, Streetfood Vancouver Society
Andrew Fielding

It's hard out here for a taco truck

Fielding told Council, "None of us are getting rich doing this. We're making a living, but a lot are going out of business." Just operating on the street isn't enough to make it a viable full-time business. Hence the catering, festivals, etc. They don't pay property tax, but they rent commissary space in the city.

Responding to a question from Geoff Meggs, Fielding estimated that roughly 60% of their revenue comes from the street, the rest coming from catering or special events.

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