City Council will vote Thursday on a bill that would result in food trucks being evicted from a busy Market Street block near Drexel University, which backed the legislation.
The ordinance, which was first reported Tuesday by WHYY, bans vendors from the sidewalk on both sides of Market Street between 33rd and 34th Streets in University City. A Drexel spokesperson told the NPR affiliate that the food trucks could relocate elsewhere near the campus and that the move is meant to “improve public safety and related traffic conditions on Market Street.”
Due to City Council’s tradition of councilmanic prerogative — the idea that district council members have final say (and the universal support of their colleagues) on city-owned land in their districts — the bill is likely to pass. Council member Jannie Blackwell introduced the legislation after she lost her bid for reelection. Thursday is the last Council meeting of the term and likely the last of Blackwell’s career. In addition, Drexel classes ended last week and students are in exams through Friday. Classes don’t begin again until Jan. 6.
Food truck operators and their advocates are not relocating without a fight.
“It would really kill our business to have to move,” Jessica Caldwell, owner of Red Stone Pizza and manager of Dos Hermanos Tacos trucks, told WHYY. “The other locations that they are suggesting do not produce the kind of business we need to survive.”
The Philadelphia Mobile Food Association launched a Change.org petition calling on the school and City Council to kill the ordinance and recognize food trucks’ importance in offering low-cost meal options for students. The petition had more than 5,000 backers as of Wednesday afternoon.
Food trucks are more controversial than one might think, and this flap is far from the first time a Philadelphia institution or government official has openly feuded with them. In 2015, Blackwell reneged on food truck regulations backed by Drexel after public outcry. At the time, the school claimed it was backing a “new vending district” that would operate a sort-of outdoor food court. Truck owners and advocates said it would kill small businesses.
The trucks have been an issue twice just this calendar year. In April, food trucks parked near Temple University were concerned their futures could be in jeopardy if the city began enforcing a 2015 ordinance that required they pack up and leave their vending spots each night. The Department of Licenses and Inspections temporarily delayed enforcement.
And this summer, City Council easily passed a bill banning food trucks in the 10th District, which encompasses parts of Northeast Philadelphia. Councilman Brian O’Neill has said brick-and-mortar businesses complained about street vendors that ate into their profits but didn’t pay rent.