Making Mobile Business Work in S.F.

Mobile Retail Trucks provide an exciting alternative for businesses seeking to establish themselves and expand their presence in San Francisco. They boast lower start up costs, lower annual operating expenses and provide significant flexibility for innovating entrepreneurs. Mobile businesses can also benefit the city by providing access to unique products and help to fill gaps in services in neighborhoods where they are needed.

However, Mobile Retail Trucks will also bring challenges to many brick-and-mortar businesses that are already heavily invested our communities. One needs only to look at the recent debate over Mobile Food Trucks, which now flourish in our city, to see what lies ahead in establishing mobile retail in San Francisco.

After the introduction of Mobile Food Trucks, many restaurants objected to the city’s permitting process including concerns over truck locations, loss of parking and unfair competition with businesses operating on public streets. According to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), its members have seen a daily revenue loss of up to 40 percent when food trucks park outside their business.

Earlier this week, the Board of Supervisors passed legislation providing tighter rules for Mobile Food Trucks, which should help address some of the key issues. The new rules require a 75-foot buffer zone around existing restaurants; legalize food trucks on hospital and college campuses; and streamline procedures for enforcing citations against trucks that operate in locations where they are not permitted.

As the city evaluates a new permit for Mobile Retail Trucks, it must consider the issues of certainty and equity that caused conflict with its food counterparts. Should the city move ahead with its plans, San Francisco will become the first major U.S. city to regulate mobile retailers. It is important to get it right at the start.

Businesses should be able to innovate and our city should embrace new ways to grow commerce. But the growth of one new industry should not unfairly impact the businesses in another, especially those businesses that continue to invest in our communities.

We’ve made good progress on creating a more predictable system and better balance when it comes to food trucks. Now, we need to do the same for mobile retail.