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Food trucks trial before final commitment

Trial and error. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it's a process of finding out the best way to reach a desired result or a correct solution by trying something out and by noting and eliminating errors or causes of failure.

It's a wise adage, and one that should be followed more frequently in public ordinance. An example is a desire by some in Birmingham to have food trucks serve up more diverse dining options. More than 550 people participated recently in a public opinion poll on the city's Engage Birmingham website, where 88.7 percent of participants said they would patronize a food truck. There was a divergence of opinion as to where to place the food trucks in town, as well as types of food to offer.

As we stated in our July editorial, years ago we were opposed to bringing food trucks into downtown Birmingham, but have changed our opinion, at least as it applies to some short-term trial run. Our original position was primarily as a protective measure for the brick and mortar establishments in town. Five months ago when we supported a test run of food trucks, as recommended by one of the authors/planners involved with the 2016 Plan, we envisioned just that – a test prior to a final decision by city officials. As businesses slowly began to bring workers back, many of whom are in their 20s, 30s and 40s, with limited lunch hours and budgets, the reality of Birmingham was that there are fewer and fewer affordable lunch spots available.

But then the spread of the Delta variant took on a new life, sending workers and diners scurrying back home, perhaps for the unforeseen future. The reality is, the pandemic is still with us. That means brick and mortar restaurants are continuing to suffer.

We still think there is an opportunity for the city commission and planning board to finesse a test of food trucks for next spring or summer, perhaps for a four-week period, in a pre-determined area of the city, like Shain Park. Details such as costs to clean up the area during and after offering the food trucks can be worked out, what to charge food trucks for the privilege of coming into the city, how many days to offer food trucks, and other issues, could be researched and dealt with in advance and assessed after the test – and then re-evaluated in order to rewrite city ordinances if it turns out food trucks are popular with the public.

If they aren't, or if many businesses and their employees in town don't return to offices and stay working remotely, then a trial run is a great determinant. Established restaurants will also be able to see if they are significantly impacted by food trucks – a consideration that must be part of the decision process.

By making preparations in advance, it also allows the city's planning department to do research on other similar municipalities, such as Royal Oak, Ferndale and beyond this county, which have allowed food trucks, to see if they are a benefit or a detriment to their communities.

Trial and error. Better than a full bore rush to offer food trucks and failure.


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