Hundreds of food trucks slowed traffic during afternoon rush hour last Thursday in a mass protest of the city’s new congestion-pricing scheme.
The act of civil disobedience, coordinated by the Mobile Food Providers Alliance, delayed commuters on their way home from work by up to 90 minutes. At 5:30 p.m., at least 215 food trucks pulled onto the Riverside Parkway and drove 15 mph. The speed brought traffic to a standstill, and was symbolic of the new toll the trucks will have to pay on the city’s highways, starting Monday.
The toll plan, which City Council passed two weeks ago, seeks to discourage the city’s taco trucks and other mobile restaurants from taking to the highways at peak traffic periods. Trucks that do so will be required to pay a $15 fee.
At a press conference before the traffic protest, Elena Cardozo, who operates Luchita’s Mobile Taco Truck No. 1 and is a co-organizer of the alliance, called the fee “industrial discrimination.”
But City Council President Martin Wernstrom, who has asked the city attorney to bring public endangerment charges against the group, says the pricing scheme only makes sense given the burgeoning number of food trucks in the city. “When we had just a few taco trucks and ice cream trucks, traffic was fine,” he said. “But now these things are out of control. They’re clogging up the roads, and some of them are clogging up our arteries.”
Wernstrom is right about the increase in mobile restaurants. In the past six months, the city has been introduced to:
:: sushi trucks
:: Vietnamese pastry vans
:: a Hawaiian pig roast bus
:: a baked bean El Camino that caused an infamous mess after a fender bender
:: a crepe truck
:: an organic potato chip pickup that runs on its own cooking oil
:: a foot-long hot dog limo
:: an oyster bar Hummer
:: a discarded NASA moon rover replica selling astronaut ice cream
:: a Korean spaghetti truck
:: and a jerry-rigged Mini Cooper that emits cotton candy from its tail pipe
The mobile eateries have become a sensation among the city’s young people and bar crowds. Many of them park at popular intersections and parks in the evenings, sometimes with DJs spinning tunes and movies projected onto the trucks. But the gourmet fleet has frustrated motorists lately, as they fan out across the city during rush hour so they can establish positions in time for dinner.
Council devised the congestion fee (dubbed by some the “indigestion fee”) to discourage the food trucks from traveling on the highways. The alliance seemed to muster almost enough resistance to the measure, but lost its fight when the American Brotherhood of Grocery Workers Local 812 (representing local pizza delivery drivers) switched its position to support the fee. Sources within the local say the rank-and-file were angry that the food trucks were preventing them from making deliveries in 30 minutes or less.
Which meant the only option left to the alliance was Wednesday’s symbolic protest. Tidy taco trucks shared asphalt with Airstream trailers painted to look like bratwurst, old school buses with jalapeno peppers popping from their yellow sides, and a second-hand police car with a large wok affixed to its hood.
Sylvestor Morris, a claims adjuster reached on his cell phone while he sat in the traffic jam, couldn’t help but note the irony of the situation. “I had to skip lunch today because of a meeting,” he said. “I was hoping to get home quickly for dinner.”
– Craig Gaines