Long before the lunch lines begin food trucks scope out premium parking spots at Metro Center, Union Station, L’Enfant Plaza and other high-traffic spots in the District. Location is critical, but it comes at a price.
"No matter how much you feed the meter, they're always eager to give tickets," Basil Thyme’s Brian Farrell said.
Farrell contacted the News4 I-Team because he thinks he’s being targeted by parking enforcement. He has more than a dozen parking tickets to show.
“These are all the tickets from the same officer,” he said as he shuffled through the $25 citations.
He’s not the only one. Every food vendor News4 talked to said they’re getting tickets almost daily, mainly for parking at meters for more than the two-hour limit.
“Being a small business is a struggle enough on its own,” said Ryan McLaughlin, of the Dangerously Delicious Pies food truck. “A thousand dollars a month [in parking tickets] is a lot of money.”
The D.C. Department of Public Works, which enforces parking in the city, declined a request for an interview, but in a statement, the agency confirmed it did start a two-person unit in October, "to address the increased presence of food trucks that violate parking regulations."
The unit has written 68 food truck tickets compared to 315,000 for all parking enforcement during the same time period, DPW said.
But Josh Saltzman, of the PORC mobile, said he regularly sees “cars parked in front of me expired, but they ignore that and specifically ticket us."
On Monday, Saltzman captured video on his cell phone that shows an officer writing his truck a ticket as Saltzman prepared to leave a spot near Union Station.
On the video, you can see the officer writing a ticket for his truck and then returning to her vehicle. Saltzman can be heard on the video saying, “Now she’s done with all these vehicles and she’s going to skip the others.”
That same day, News4 cameras caught the same officer at Metro Center writing tickets on a half-dozen trucks parked near the Metro station.
The officer passed a News4 vehicle parked in a “No Parking” space next to a food truck, as well as four other vehicles with expired meters.
Once the officer finished writing tickets on the food trucks, she returned to her vehicle and drove away.
In a statement, DPW said the new unit is, "charged with ticketing all vehicles, not just food trucks" and the other cars might have paid by cell phone.
"Regulations need to be enforced," said Andrew Kline, of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
Kline said food trucks are taking spaces from customers who want to park and visit traditional food establishments.
“Right now, the food trucks are operating under a fiction where they park in parking spots,” he said. It “doesn’t serve their interest because two hours doesn’t really make a lot of sense for them and doesn't take into account the other competing uses for public space."
The food trucks and the restaurant association agree the city needs to do something because the current system isn’t working, leading to a food fight that could boil over into the streets of D.C.