I-Team: Food truck traffic violations uncovered

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone via WLS logo
Friday, August 26, 2016
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The ABC7 I-Team and Chicago Sun-Times teamed up to expose food truck traffic violations and a lack of enforcement of rules meant to protect the public.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Food trucks are serving up something other than delicious dishes. The ABC7 I-Team and Chicago Sun-Times teamed up to expose food truck traffic violations and a lack of enforcement of rules meant to protect the public.

There's a food fight underway between popular food trucks and critics who say they are stuffing into precious space in Chicago's Loop. The I-Team and Sun-Times found food truck operators violating the law, seemingly with permission from the city.

Lunch break in the Loop finds hungry workers sinking their teeth into food served from 60 licensed trucks.

"I just love the experience," said Alexis Franklin.

But after several days of monitoring, the I-Team found some other food trucks were free to park in tow zones, bus stops and within inches of the crosswalk.

The I-Team teamed up with Sun-Times reporter Dan Mihalopoulos to expose the food truck overload.

"You cannot be within 20 feet of the intersection or 30 feet of the stoplight or stop sign, and we've seen food trucks parked almost all the way to the corner," Mihalopoulos said.

And asked if they knew they were parking in a tow zone, the truck operators were affirmative.

"I did. I was told it was OK, too," said operator Sam Svita.

"Yes, we are well aware we are in a tow zone," said operator Emily Darland.

Several others were in violation of the two hour parking limits. One truck was illegally parked in one spot for at least two hours longer than it should have been, according to the 2012 ordinance.

Alderman Brendan Reilly (Ward 42) wants the city to do more.

"And there are public safety implications, pedestrian safety," Reilly said. "So my office receives a lot of complaints."

But are city investigators responding to those complaints?

"It's been sporadic. They're spread very thin," Reilly said.

The agencies mainly responsible for enforcing the ordinance are the Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

"We asked both of those departments for any citations that they had issued against food trucks," Mihalopoulos said.

According to the Sun-Times' Freedom of Information Act requests, CDOT hasn't issued any citations and the BACP has issued five parking-related citations since 2013. Mihalopoulos also said the BACP could not provide proof it had ever asked food truck operators for GPS data. That data helps them enforce the two hour parking rule and is a safeguard for health concerns.

"So in a way the city's flying blind. Say we have a food poisoning incident, we need to be able to track down that truck before they serve more bad food," Reilly said.

The BACP issued a statement saying that pulling GPS data is complaint-driven and "we haven't received enough complaints warranting a GPS search." They also said other agencies are also responsible for issuing tickets.

The I-Team found that $37,000 in fines have been paid, based in 62 cases from police and the health department since 2011. That's about 12 cases per year. So far in 2016 there have only been three cases.

"I want to help food trucks do well. But when they're routinely abusing these privileges, that's a real issue," Reilly said.

In one complaint a brick-and-mortar restaurant owner said too many food trucks were packed in to the designated food stand in front of his business. According to CDOT policy it's supposed to be 40 feet.

When the I-Team measured the designated stand, it was about 105 feet long. CDOT was unable to tell the I-Team why that designated food truck stand was so large.

But food truck operators said they need more space and that current rules are unfair.

"Two hours is not enough time to make any kidn of profit in this business," said Svia.

"We got to serve them any way we can, so we don't really want to break the law but..." said operator Maurice Miller.

There is currently a lawsuit filed by the food truck industry against the city, challenging some of the restrictions. The Illinois Food Truck Association also adds that food truck operators wouldn't make any money if the current ordinance was fully enforced, and it says Chicago rules are the harshest in the nation.

The Sun-Times report is live on its website now; CLICK HERE to read their full report. It will also be in Friday's newspaper.

CLICK HERE for the full response from the Illinois Food Truck Association