The 4 Altos Taco Truck was the only applicant to participate in the entire 12-week pilot project that saw food trucks allowed on public property downtown this past summer. Photo courtesy 4 Altos Taco Truck

Campbell River food truck project to move forward, possibly expand outside downtown

Despite low vendor interest, public response was positive, including from downtown businesses

The City of Campbell River has compiled the feedback received from this past summer’s Food Truck Pilot Project and will now decide how to proceed with a possible full-scale implementation, despite three members of council voting in opposition to moving forward with the idea, saying the lack of vendor participation shows there isn’t the appetite for such a program.

But city staff says the low participation from vendors wasn’t due to lack of interest.

The 12-week pilot project was designed to test the feasibility of allowing food trucks to set up shop in various public locations around the downtown core, but “in discussion with prospective program participants during recruitment, the general consensus among mobile vendors was that extensive restrictions served as a barrier to entry,” according to the staff report presented to council this week. Only one vendor – 4 Altos Taco Truck – participated throughout the entire project, with one other participating for just the first month.

“Specifically, mobile vendor businesses expressed that a four-hour limit per location was unrealistic when factoring in time required to set up, prepare food and heat oil, disassemble operations and wait for oil to cool,” the staff report says.

Other factors also limited participation in the pilot project, the report says, such as “the lack of incentive to join the pilot program by paying double the cost for a 12-week business licence. Instead, food trucks could simply opt to set up operations on private, commercially-zoned property permitting a restaurant with their existing $150 business license.”

Also, several mobile vendors approached by the city during the intake period already had previous scheduling commitments for the summer, the report says.

There were also issues of servicing the vendors, according to the report, as participants were initially responsible for providing their own electricity, which caused a spike in calls to the city’s bylaws department about noise from generators. A power supply was instead brought in and supplied at the Spirit Square location.

Despite the low participation from potential vendors, however, most respondents to the suite of surveys circulated after the program’s completion were enthusiastic that food trucks were at least making some headway into the local dining scene. Surveys were provided to downtown businesses, restaurants and the general public looking for feedback.

RELATED: Proposed food truck project delayed to 2019

RELATED: Campbell River residents overwhelmingly in support of food trucks

Every downtown business that took part in the survey said they either supported or were at least “not opposed” to the program, with the overarching message of the feedback being that there should be more trucks parked for longer periods of time and better communication/advertising about when and where they would be.

Even amongst the downtown restaurants, of which half initially expressed reluctance to the project, “the general consensus after program completion was support for the presence of food trucks in the downtown.”

The general public was more critical of the project’s implementation, but every one of the 122 survey respondents said they supported the presence of the trucks, in general.

In fact, the overarching tone of the public responses was that there needed to be more trucks, more often, in more places, and there needs to be some sort of schedule posted online or in the newspaper so that people could know when and where they would be.

So now, the city will decide how to move forward with plans to allow food trucks “more permanently on public property,” as well as possibly expand the program outside of the downtown core, despite the opposition of three city councilors.

Coun. Ron Kerr, who has consistently said he thinks the presence of food trucks will hurt restaurants, again voiced his concern, saying that one truck participating in the pilot doesn’t give them enough information to move forward, going so far as to call the pilot “a complete bust.”

Coun. Kermit Dahl agreed, saying he thinks increasing the presence of food trucks downtown during the summer will put restaurants out of business, and, in turn, harm the rest of the downtown during the months when the food trucks aren’t there.

Coun. Charlie Cornfield said he didn’t have a problem with staff returning with options to expand the program, but wanted it contained to downtown, saying, “this pilot program was for the downtown area, and I think we need to walk before we run.”

In the end, it was decided that staff will return with a suite of options for council to consider moving forward, but there is currently no timeline on that report being issued.

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