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Toronto Star confirms what we already know: A la Cart has been a total fiasco

A cartful of issues (Image: Anthony Easton)

When the city and provincial governments got together so that people could buy food that wasn’t a hot dog from street vendors, the program was supposed to be a big deal. George Smitherman, back then a cabinet minister at Queen’s Park, declared, “Goodbye to the sausage, hello to the samosa.”

Not so much, actually. The Toronto Star just ran a weekend series detailing how badly the city’s A la Cart program has failed. Of the eight vendors who got licences, only one is committed to being on the streets in 2011. The failures are numerous, including mismanagement and too much red tape, but the most face-palmingly bad decision seems to have been the carts themselves.

The [cart] weighs 360 kilograms, is not towable, has a small countertop, a malfunctioning freezer and takes two people four exhausting hours a day to load and unload from a truck or trailer.

“You’ve told us we need to run a mobile business and you’ve provided us with a cart that’s immobile,” [Kathy] Bonivento says.

Seemab Ahmad, a civil engineer by trade, says the other vendors spotted problems immediately but there was no prototype, only the finished product.

“The biggest obstacle to success is the cart itself. You can’t fight that.”

It’s not really clear why the program was so hobbled right from the beginning, but the reaction has been pretty swift: Smitherman and Joe Pantalone both say in a follow-up story that they would work hard to make the program work again if they’re elected mayor. Not to put words in Rob Ford’s mouth here, but this sounds like a textbook case of over-regulation killing a promising business, so these vendors might expect some relief from Ford if he wins.

It takes time to fix something like this, so for now it looks like the city will still be (mostly) eating street meat. Uh, we mean hot dogs.

• Why Toronto’s street food program is in shambles [Toronto Star]
• Toronto a la Cart called an ‘a la Failure’ [Toronto Star]
• The food cart deal [Toronto Star]

  • Streets

    Why can a city like NYC have hundreds of these carts and here we can’t even support 8? I remember first talks of these carts and as a Culinerd, I was excited to finally see something different. Toronto Star articles were talking bad from the beginning. For me there has been little to no support for these guys/girls who want to give different food. The great city I love and the ridiculousness of its people…..

  • JB

    The “a la Cart” program is a wonderful example of what is wrong with the city. It is a simple program in which we can all understand the goal and scope, unlike say new transit construction or administering Toronto Public Health. Can you imagine the bureaucratic boondoggles in the complex areas of the city’s administration if we they destroy something as uncomplicated as “a la Carte”? While I do not often agree with Denzil Minnan-Wong his comment from the Star speaks volumes when he “argued ethnic eats could be introduced with a simple change in regulations and proper health and safety safeguards. “

  • Hogtownmike

    Better pray Ford doesn’t win–all you will get is more hot dogs (or maybe he’ll enlighten the average working slob with a pogo!)

  • Don Mitchell

    Amen, “Hogtownmike”…Ford wouldn’t know a samosa from a souvlaki. The vendors should definitely have been consulted about the carts…after all, they’re the ones hauling them around and using them to prepare the food. City Hall is broken but sadly I don’t think any of the candidates can fix it…especially Rob Ford. He’s a doofus. I think these vendors should be getting some money back too…they had to drop quite a lot of cash just to get into this deal and they’ve been given short shrift ever since. Now that’s something Ford would NEVER do…give them a refund!!!