Chicago proposal would ban food trucks from Midway, charge $200 to operate at O’Hare

Chicago proposal would ban food trucks from Midway, charge $200 to operate at O’Hare

A proposal to allow food trucks at O’Hare Airport imposes extra expenses on operators and does not grant them the right to operate at Midway Airport.

Food trucks are technically legal in Chicago, but city rules are killing the industry. And now city officials are making matters even worse.

A plan to charge food trucks $200 to set up in parking lots at O’Hare Airport advanced July 18, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Though this proposal would open up the market to trucks, the fee would sting. And what’s worse, at Alderman Marty Quinn’s urging, Midway Airport was omitted from the plan, meaning food trucks won’t be allowed to operate at Midway.

“We have about $30 million of pending investment on Cicero Avenue. This is gonna cut against the six years of hard work that I put in developing the south corridor of Midway,” Quinn said, according to Sun-Times reporting.

This development is in keeping with the city’s harsh treatment of a beloved industry. Chicago bans food trucks from serving customers within 200 feet of any business that sells food. The ordinance doesn’t just prevent food trucks from parking outside restaurants: It also includes convenience stores that carry food products, such as CVS and 7-Eleven.

That’s not all. Food trucks must relocate every two hours. Every truck must be outfitted with a GPS device so city officials can track its whereabouts at any time.

The result? Chicago, with a population of 2.7 million, has only 60 trucks in operation, down from 130 at the industry’s peak in 2012, according to the Illinois Food Truck Association.

New Orleans, with a population one-seventh the size of Chicago’s, has issued 120 food truck licenses. Los Angeles County has issued 3,305 food truck licenses.

And compare Chicago with Washington, D.C.

Washington’s food truck culture is thriving now. But it went through many regulatory growing pains to get to this point. Just a few years back, the nation’s capital was considering enacting its own set of harmful rules.

For many years, D.C. had no regulatory framework to accommodate food trucks. Around 2009, officials in D.C. started licensing mobile food vendors as ice cream trucks to accommodate the city’s growing food truck industry. Restaurants threatened by the competition and innovation resisted. In 2012, former Mayor Vincent Gray was ready to enact harsh new rules, but public support for food trucks was by then strong enough to temper the urge to regulate. Today, the District has at least 250 food trucks.

When the seat of the federal government beats out a city with a proud industrial history there’s a problem.

Chicago would be wise to take a cue from Washington, D.C. Or Los Angeles. Or New Orleans. Or any other city that wants to attract and retain good food and growing businesses.

Doing the right thing would be easy. For starters, the aggressive enforcement tactics have to go. The city should repeal the rules that run food trucks out of business – not only because the trucks are popular, but also because those rules are unjust.

Until that happens, Chicago will keep stifling the type of culinary innovation for which the city was once famous. Portillo’s, maker of Chicago’s most delicious Italian beef sandwich, got its start in a 6-by-12-foot trailer more than 50 years ago. Today’s city rules would kill Portillo’s at its birth.

Chicago is often called the “Second City,” but its food truck rules land it squarely in last place.

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