Another objection made to selling prime spots was that doing so might result in these spots going to large corporate establishments such as Chic‐Fil‐a, which was judged to be a disastrous outcome.
Instead, the city set up a lottery to allocate the good spots, and—predictably—various food truck owners gamed it in fairly short order. Soon after it was set up the food truck association set up its own market for prime spots: if a truck owner got a prime spot in the lottery that he didn’t want, he could transact with another owner instead. The only difference here is that the truck owners—rather than the government—get to keep the money.
Once it became possible to monetize these spots, truck owners began entering numerous trucks in the lottery each morning—including, many suspect, “ghost” trucks that did not actually exist to ensure they got at least one prime spot. Owners with just one truck found themselves in the hinterlands with more regularity and started complaining, and the city responded by limiting owners to only one spot in the auction—which penalized the operators who did actually own multiple trucks. After being overrun by complaints from that group as well as the attendant bad press, the city said that it would listening to criticism and consider making further changes.
The next change is obvious: the city should stop trying to be a beneficent actor and simply sell the choice spots to the highest bidder. There is absolutely no reason not to do this—the truck owners aren’t paupers and their customers—mainly downtown office workers—are by and large anything but poor, so anyone worried about reducing profits or increasing food prices is barking up the wrong tree.
As for the fear of corporatism taking over the food truck market and begetting homogeneity in the market, it’s worth noting that such a thing hasn’t exactly happened in DC restaurants, and so what if it did occur? If most workers decided that they wanted thai food or burritos and the trucks at Farragut square all sold one or the other why is it the government’s responsibility to prevent that from happening?
The current lottery system is an implicit subsidy to food truck owners worth millions of dollars a year. Why we would give away scarce public space to this cohort when the small mom and pop restaurants they compete with get no such subsidy is a question no one has even attempted to answer.