Saskatoon looks to loosen rules on food trucks

Saskatoon city councillors are looking to loosen the rules and lower permit prices for food trucks in hopes to get more people eating on the streets.

New and more flexible rules look to spur growth of city's blossoming food truck industry

Wes Dennis, who operates one of Saskatoon's newest food trucks, says he's grateful for proposed changes that would extend hours and lower permit prices for food truck operators. (CBC)

Members of Saskatoon's growing food truck scene hope new rules cooked up by city hall are a recipe for success. 

City councillors are looking to loosen the rules, extend the hours and lower the permit prices for food truck operators in advance of this year's street eats season.  

Wes Dennis, who operates one of the city's newest food trucks, says he's grateful for the changes. 

"Obviously, more hours and lesser fees, it's just a better opportunity for us," Dennis said while setting up his food truck — A Cuban, A Reuben and A Jerk — in Saskatoon. 

Wes Dennis shows off some of the eats from his new food truck A Cuban, A Reuben and A Jerk on April. 20, 2017. (CBC)

The new rule changes would not only lower the cost to operate a food truck in public parking stalls by several hundred dollars, but would also allow them to operate near neighbourhood parks for the first time — something that was banned under the old regime.

Dennis has only been operating the Caribbean-themed truck for a few weeks, but he said he's grateful for the new potential rule changes. 

But some food truck owners, like Rick Mah, think the changes don't go far enough. He said the city needs to give food trucks more flexibility in terms of where they can set up shop. 

Food truck owner Rick Mah says the city needs to do more to help the food truck industry. (CBC)

"They are not easy to park, with all the restrictions — like you can't park on a corner, at an alley, in front of a restaurant, at a bus stop, angle park, bike lanes. It doesn't leave a lot of spots open. Downtown, you know, it's tough," Mah said. 

He said he would like to see owners given the ability to pay for dedicated parking stalls for the whole summer. He even floated the idea that the city could temporarily close off a downtown street and designate it for street-food vendors.

He said a healthy food truck industry won't just help owners, but the city's downtown as a whole. 

"They are trying to get people downtown, but they are not helping the food trucks, that's for sure," Mah said. 

Councillor backs rule changes

The cost of parking in a downtown or Broadway parking stall could also be cut by almost $500 for a three-month pass, going from $1,250 down to $772. The cost of a six-month pass for a double stall could be cut by nearly $1,700.  

Food trucks will also now be allowed to park for six hours at a time instead of five. 

Coun. Bev Dubois said food truck operators and park patrons told her that getting trucks near busy neighbourhood parks would be a good fit.

She said during sporting tournaments, for example, the trucks could set up shop and out-of-town athletes or fans wouldn't have to travel far for a bite to eat. 

Restaurant owners upset about food trucks 

The proposed rule changes come on the heels of a city-commissioned survey that looks at the impact of food trucks since the first ones were licensed in the city in 2013. 

Of the 29 non-food truck business owners surveyed, 14 said their businesses had been "negatively affected by on-street food trucks."

According to the survey, the business owners said garbage, health and sanitation, and "fairness" were top issues for business owners.

Food truck owners surveyed, meanwhile, said the parking fees were too high.

A city report says there's been 'gradual growth' in on-street food trucks in Saskatoon since licensing began in 2013. (Peter Mills/CBC)

Dubois says she wants to make sure sanitation issues are top of mind, but pointed out the city did not receive any complaints about garbage or sanitation in 2016. 

While she sympathizes with any business that is struggling, she says food trucks are a new reality and everyone needs to learn to get along. 

"I think at the end of the day we need to work together with this. This is the way of the future," Dubois said. 

Last summer, eight food trucks were licensed to operate in Saskatoon, while there were seven licences issued in 2015. 

A city report says there's been "gradual growth" in on-street food trucks since licensing began in 2013.