As Adelaide rolls into 2016, you may find yourself experiencing a small sense of loss at some point. You may no longer see some of your favourite food trucks trading around the city anymore, thanks to the new permit restrictions imposed by the Adelaide City Council late last year. It's now been revealed that only 16 out of last year’s 44 trading food trucks have reapplied for permits to trade in the CBD. That can’t be good, so how did we get here?
In The Beginning
In 2010, the first food truck to hit the streets of Adelaide and start the food truck craze was the wildly successful Burger Theory, which has since gone on to establish a permanent location on Union Street, as well as opening up another location in Melbourne. By 2012 a whole slew of food trucks were roaming the CBD serving everything from tacos, to Vietnamese rolls, to American BBQ. The demand quickly grew, and also in 2012 Fork on the Road was born; an event to bring together all the food trucks in one place.
As the amount of food trucks grew, so did the need for regulations around them. In October 2012, the ACC trialled permits for 52 food trucks. At the same time, opposition started to arise from brick and mortar businesses – who felt that they were being disadvantaged by food trucks – and Adelaide City Council members, some who have an interest in the success of these businesses.
They thought food trucks had it easy; they’re portable, they can set up anywhere they please, and take any customers they want. Their operating costs were minimal compared to the rent or a lease an established restaurant endures.
The defence? The food truck business certainly isn’t all peaches and cream. Many have put all of their capital into their food truck, and have to hope that the customers like the food they get served out of a van window. It costs a lot to run a truck, and they certainly don’t have a huge profit margin.
The ACC soon made the decision to restrict licenses to 40, as well as restricting areas they could trade in. Most food truck owners felt this was a pretty fair deal. Some councillors still weren’t happy with this and sought harsher regulations. One such being, Sandy Wilkinson, who wanted food trucks to pay $3000 a year for their permit.
Many criticised the ACC for stomping down on creative and innovative business, and instead favouring big money makers. Businesses already started to get their way, with complaints from those on Rundle Street, meaning food trucks could no longer trade there. Food truck owners felt they were being treated as a separate industry, rather than a different form of the catering and food service industry.
Throughout 2014 and 2015, the debate fired up, and some brick and mortar businesses blamed food trucks for their decline in their popularity and profits. A report commissioned by the ACC surveyed café, restaurant and food businesses, and the overwhelming consensus was that food trucks were the reason for their declining business. Some property tycoons unsurprisingly wanted to ban food trucks all together, but this spurred the council to make a decision.
However, an economic analysis brought in a report to the ACC saw that food trucks only made 0.15% of total market revenue in the CBD, and earned around $600,000 in trade annually all together. So essentially, they were hardly affecting brick and mortar businesses. The report showed that food trucks hardly make any real profit themselves. Many food truck owners have supported this, explaining that running a food truck isn’t the most lucrative business, but they do it for their love of food.
Last year, significant new regulations were proposed, that saw the exclusion zone for food trucks and established business grow from the existing 25 metres to 50 metres. It also involved in a limit of 3 vendors on each location at any one time, and raising the fees for mobile food vending licenses. The proposal, had it gone through, would mean food trucks could no longer trade in the spots we were used to finding them in; Hindmarsh Square and North Terrace, to name a couple.
Councillor Wilkinson wanted to go to another level all together, doubling their fees and making the distance between where they trade and established business 100 metres. He was unhappy with the inequality in fees paid by both businesses, with the fee for a mobile vending license a fraction of a year’s lease on a building.
Thankfully, supporters within the council such as Robert Simms and Megan Hender disputed the proposal, arguing that the changes to drive food trucks out of the city would actually reduce the vibrancy of these areas; the opposite what the council claims to want.
Many argued that the report the council itself commissioned demonstrated the little effect food trucks had on established businesses, and that the changes favoured fixed business at the same time as disadvantaging food trucks. They also argued that hiking the fees would be a severe detriment in particular to the food trucks that only trade occasionally, and have very little affect on fixed business.
Lord Mayor Martin Haese said he did not believe the changes would cause the food truck industry to collapse completely, and communicated that the changes sought to incentivise food trucks to be innovative and different, rather than just operating a food truck for the sake of it.
In August last year, the State Government entered the arena. Premier Jay Weatherill came to the defence of food trucks, saying he was alarmed at the proposed changes he believed went against the council’s aim to encourage business and entrepreneurialism.
The decision was made, and in October the Adelaide City Council passed a licensing regime that both confused and angered a lot of people.
The regime saw that no more than 10 mobile food vending operators in the city before 6pm on any given day. It also reduced the number of licenses from 40 to 30. However, the limit only applies to existing vendors, and there is an additional 10 available for brick and mortar businesses and new vendors. Fees have also been increased for food vendors to $2,400 per year. Councilor Houssam Abiad has defended the council’s decision, arguing that the limit would not have an affect on food trucks, as there is around 8 in the city at any time anyway.
The main confusion; brick and mortar businesses have spent the last few years campaigning against food trucks, but now they want food truck licenses?
Weatherill commented on the changes, expressing disappointment with the Council’s decision, and advocating that we support young entrepreneurs as much as we can.
Where are we now?
In Haese’s defence, the Adelaide City Council has been tasked with finding an extremely fine balance. Finding a policy that keeps both sides happy and doesn’t disadvantage either will be difficult. Of course, it is just as important for the economy that established businesses do well, as food trucks do too.
However, can these changes really be part of a ‘vibrant city’? Restricting small business entrepreneurs, who have it tough as it is, doesn’t sound vibrant.
It looks like the conversation between the ACC and the State Government is set to continue, with Labor MP’s urging the council to reconsider.
Why can’t we, the consumers, decide? We go to food trucks when we want to go to a food truck, because they do absolutely goddamn delicious food. We go to a bar or a restaurant when we want that experience instead. Some of us like to eat from food trucks because we like the idea of a small business getting our money, rather than a hotel group that makes most of its money from pokie machines.
Competition is inherent in an industry such as the food industry, so rather than see restrictions and rules crack down on innovation and creativity, why can’t we just see businesses do what they can to be better? To provide a better service, and a better experience?
Time will tell how the changes will affect the industry. The ACC is happy with their decision for now, but just as the pavers in Hindley Street were removed, we’re sure things can change.
We’ll finish with the good news, which is a lineup of brand new food trucks about to hit the streets. Look out for Saint Espresso, Signor Arrorsticini, Madam Spice Fine Food & Catering, Rolling Lemo and Daisy Burger. Sounds delicious.
Thanks to Fork on the Road for all other images, via their Facebook