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Toronto might be moving to food-cart sanity—if province, city hall and restaurant owners let it happen

The kind of street food Torontonians can only dream of (Image: Dana Robinson)

The infamous Toronto à la Cart program is finally winding down—or, more accurately, dying an unlamented death after becoming the cartoon stereotype of what goes wrong when the government tries to micro-manage things. Now, some people in council are looking at expanding Toronto’s street food options with what’s probably the easiest method available to the city: simply getting out of the way. In these small-government times, Cesar Palacio wants the city to cut way back on the regulations street vendors face, according to the Toronto Star:

“We should maybe regulate hours of operation and location and, of course, health and safety, but not the menu. I’ve had discussions with staff and I think that’s the direction we’re going to go.”

Palacio said he’ll consult all players before pushing council to make changes that could finally see Toronto join the North American explosion in exotic street eats — but could also trigger complaints from some restaurants.

His comments come before next week’s release of a consultant’s report, which he has not seen, with recommendations on the fate of the 3-year-old “à la Cart” pilot project. The scheme has floundered in red tape and complaints about the expensive, heavy and sometimes dangerous carts the city required vendors to use.

There are basically three major obstacles to reforming this program, and the first is council itself. We assume Rob Ford and his allies will be sympathetic to a small-government solution here, but the temptation to “help” is universal in government.

Even if council gets out of the way, the province’s baroque regulations are an obstacle too—this section of Ontario’s health protection law requires that the city’s medical officer of health approve anything that isn’t already pre-approved. If we’re reading this right, pizza would be pre-approved but a grilled cheese might not.

Finally, there’s the restaurant lobby. The Star’s two articles have hinted at this, but in other cities, when street carts really take off, restaurants owners react—predictably—by demanding regulation to protect themselves from competition. In D.C., the restaurant lobby wanted a regulation that would have moved carts 25 feet from any licensed restaurant. We haven’t Google-mapped this, but we’re pretty sure that would ban carts from most of the downtown core.

So here’s hoping that the city manages to wrestle through this thorny policy question with something resembling sanity. It’s a good thing the people in charge are known for their patience and depth of understanding. Oh wait.

Yum: Tastier street eats, without the red tape [Toronto Star]
Hot dog vendors skeptical about plans to loosen regulations on street food [Toronto Star]