EDITORIAL: Food truck pilot program shouldn’t be a moving target

EDITORIAL: Food truck pilot program shouldn’t be a moving target

(File Photo)

Measuring success — or failure — comes as naturally to us as breathing.

Throughout life we set benchmarks for ourselves and do our best to meet or exceed them. Students measure their progress by the grades they receive or the accolades they earn on the playing field. Professionals use job offers, promotions and pay raises as their standard of success.

Examples abound, but the bottom line is we instinctively search for ways to gauge our performance, be it in the office, classroom or basketball court. How else can we determine whether our actions were sound or erroneous? How else can we learn from our mistakes as well as our successes?

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that City Hall is launching a pilot program for food trucks but has not yet settled on a system by which its success or failure will be judged — or decided if that’s even necessary.

Well, it is, and a criterion ought to be in place by July 1, when the pilot program is expected to launch.

The initiative, a compromise of sorts, lets food trucks set up camp at off-street sites, like public parks and farmer’s markets, as well as cater special events and private gatherings.

The program expires October 2015, at which point city councilors are expected to take another look at the roving restaurants and whether they work in the Port City. But without any data — and without a measuring stick — how will we know whether it was a success or failure?

It seems like a pretty simple system to set up, particularly when Planning Commissioner Nathan Macek had already put a bit of thought into it. He has the right idea by calling for officials to compile residents’ complaints, track the frequency of food trucks in the city and — if possible — keep tabs on their sales and the taxes they generate.

Macek also calls for checking in with food truck owners and recording their impressions of the pilot program. We would go a bit further and ask for feedback from their clients and residents of the neighborhoods they frequent.

Finally, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce is pushing for a business impact study. We agree this is necessary, particularly since the chamber seems eager to do the heavy lifting. A close look at how brick-and-mortar restaurants fared before and after the pilot program’s launch ought to be included in this review or examined separately.

Armed with this information, we can make a reasonable determination as to whether food trucks work in Alexandria or do not. If the roving restaurants prove popular, generate taxes and increase economic activity in the city, they should stay. If they cause headaches, they should go.

It’s that simple.