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Food Trucks Are on a Roll, Despite Paperwork

Food trucks are also forming communities, including with competitors, in New York, Washington and Chicago to address local laws and regulations on mobile vending.

Red Hook Lobster formed the NYC Food Truck Association to work with a lobbyist to update some of the outdated New York City parking regulations, Povich says. Paperwork in some cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, is easier to deal with; cities such as New York can be daunting.

New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene oversees food truck vendor permits and licenses. A permit goes to the cart or truck itself, like in a car registration, with one permit per cart or truck. Mobile food vendors may have more than one license, though, says a spokeswoman for the department. They're comparable to a driver's license and means you can work at a permitted cart.

The number of permits is capped under the city's administrative code -- just 3,100 for two-year permits and 1,000 for six-month seasonal permits valid from April 1 through Oct. 31, according to the health department. The city allots another 1,000 permits for so-called green carts, those selling fresh produce. Povich estimates a permit waiting list of roughly 4,000; the city did not provide figures.

Collecting specific data in general has proven a challenge. For instance, if a restaurant launches a truck, sales from that truck would be counted into the restaurant's total sales and thus fall into the so-called quick-service or full-service segment, Stensson writes. Additionally, many mobile vendors don't have employees, so data cannot be collected that way.

Matt Geller, CEO of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, says Los Angeles is the "epicenter" of the food truck phenomenon because it does not have the same restrictions for mobile food vendors as New York.

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