Bureaucratic red tape, restrictive regulations killing food truck culture in S'pore

Dear authorities, please note that a stationary food truck is an oxymoron.

Belmont Lay| March 09, 06:55 PM

For the first two months this year, food trucks were parked around the Promontory at Marina Bay selling food.

This initiative was part of an Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) trial to create some buzz in the area, which ended on Feb. 28.

Three vendors that were operating have since been given the chance to carry on until May as URA wants to continue to assess the viability of food trucks.

One of the food trucks, Kerbside Gourmet, is run by Luan Ee, 49.



History of food trucks

But if you've never heard of Kerbside Gourmet before, there are many reasons why that is so.

The history of food trucks has been littered with false starts and the food truck culture has failed to pick up in Singapore even though it has a 11-year long history.

It all started in 2003 when URA conducted a one-year trial to get food operators to set up in car parks under its Mobile Food Van Scheme.

Only one is currently still operating out of 33 vans.

In 2003, the same year, the National Parks Board (NParks) -- another government agency -- launched a trial to allow food wagons in Bukit Batok and Changi Beach parks.

The trial died prematurely in 2004.

Since 2003, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has given out 50 mobile food wagon licenses.

Only five are still operating.


To explain why the failure rate is so high, here is a list of factors that are preventing food trucks from becoming more commonplace.

1. There is a need to apply for a venue permit before setting up shop at any specific location. This means trucks -- which are meant to travel -- cannot roam around looking for customers.

Do note the oxymoron here: A truck that cannot move.

Customers must come to it. Why? Well, just because, according to the rules.


2. Making it worse, different government agencies run different public areas. Vendors simply have no idea who they should apply to.

Imagine the food truck wants to go across the street after lunch service to sell food to other people over there. Well, that requires another license. Or maybe they are not even allowed there at all, just because.


3. Vendors cannot set up tables and chairs for customers to dine on site due to NEA regulations.

This will severely limit the types of food that can be sold. And it will limit the number of people who want to buy food to eat on the spot.


4. Sky-high certificate of entitlement (COE) prices.

Cost of operating a food truck is prohibitively high.

Makansutra estimated the start-up cost alone to be close to $300,000.


5. A lack of a single agency to deal with food truck issues and permits

Have you ever been kicked around by different government agencies? No?

Start a food truck and deal with the different agencies! You'd be treated like a football in Arsenal's possession.


6. A lack of scalability.

A food truck is not a food court as long as the owner takes pride in making food that is not just edible.


7. You'd need to acquire a Class 4 driving license. That's $3,000.


Top photo from Kerbside Gourmet Facebook

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