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Ames St. Food Trucks Lose Parking Licenses

By Eva Moy
News Editor

Since Jan. 16, food trucks on Ames Street have been prohibited from occupying the same position for more than 10 minutes at a time. Despite this prohibition, however, the trucks continue to park for several hours during peak lunch hours.

The Cambridge Department of Public Works revoked the licenses to obstruct -- needed to park in an illegal space for longer than 10 minutes -- for Andy's Place, Falafel King, and Poppa Goose, according to Richard V. Scali, executive officer of the Cambridge License Commission.

All three trucks still have peddler's licenses, which allows them to stay in one place for 10 minutes. Unlike licenses to obstruct, which must be renewed each month, a peddler's license can be used for a full year.

"If they're caught violating their permits, they'll be asked to move or be arrested," Scali said.

DPW officials decided to revoke the licenses because of "the congestion and the confusion of traffic" on Ames Street created by the trucks, according to Scali. Conflicts between Andy's Place and Falafel King also contributed to the decision, he said.

In addition, the city received complaints that the vendors parked in handicapped spaces and ramps, and were "generally just parking in illegal spots," Scali said.

A truck may conduct business as long as it wants while parked in a legal parking spot, such as one in front of a parking meter, provided that the owner pays the meter, Scali explained.

But John T. McNeil, associate director of MIT food services, suggested that if a truck moved from a spot, came back, and the spot was still available, the owner could park the vehicle again and start selling again for another 10 minutes.

"There's a fast 10 minutes and a slow 10 minutes," said Moses Katz, who runs the Falafel King truck on Ames Street, referring to the lax enforcement of the 10-minute restriction. Katz feels that if the trucks pose such a threat, the city would enforce its regulations more seriously.

Disputes between the trucks began last July, when the city government moved Andy's Place to Ames Street. The falafel truck behind Building 66 viewed this as a threat to its business, and the owners quickly obtained a permit to operate a second Falafel King truck on Ames Street in an effort to remain competitive with Andy's Place.

The two trucks began arguing about parking space allocation and permitted parking times. Both parties submitted several complaints to the City Council, and by December, the Department of Public Works simply decided to revoke all of the vendors' licenses to obstruct, Scali said.

"You give [permits] to all, or you give to none," he added.

Katz seemed to blame Andy's Place employee Richard W. Hutchins for his problems. "Everything was OK until [Andy's] started to complain. The less noise we make, the less threat we present" to Cambridge, he said.

Neither Hutchins nor Katz said he wants to fight the city on this issue. But both men would like to try to stay at Ames Street, or at least on campus.

"There is enough business for three trucks" not to have to fight among one another, Katz said.

The Poppa Goose truck, which is run by MIT alumni as a non-profit organization that helps international refugee families, has remained on the sidelines for much of the dispute.

Chon Vo '83, a student volunteer in the business, said he was aware when he applied that the city could revoke the permit with short notice.

"We don't mind if it comes down to [moving] every 15 minutes," Vo said. "That would be fair to us as long as it applies to everyone."

MIT community shows strong support

"I think they need a spot for these people. They do a good job," said Director of the Spectrometry Laboratory James A. Simms, who visits Andy's Place three or four times a week.

"I think that the trucks are an important resource for students," said Charles R. Wescott G. The dining halls are not competitive in quality or in price, he added.

"I'm very much in favor of the trucks staying," said William G. Gardner G, a frequent customer.