Hong Kong’s food trucks can keep plying their trade for at least another year after the Covid-19 pandemic hammered businesses, but an industry group leader said some operators felt the government just wanted to avoid taking responsibility for killing off the programme.
The trucks operate mostly in tourist areas, which have been left empty due to the pandemic.
“Food truck operations have been seriously affected,” a Tourism Commission spokesman said on Friday. “By extending the scheme for another year, food trucks can continue to operate during the extended period.”
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The scheme was launched amid much fanfare in February 2017, with 15 trucks selling a variety of easy to eat snacks and light meals, such as pineapple buns, fried noodles and salad. The programme was extended the following year until February 2021, and now until February 2022.
While the business model seemed promising at first, operators were soon complaining about strict rules, such as being limited to designated spots and having to move to another location every two weeks.
Two operators eventually quit and most of 13 remaining trucks were either stored in car parks or no longer operating when the Post checked last month. Five trucks were scheduled to operate this week in Kowloon East, West Kowloon Cultural District and Tai Mei Tuk.
According to a Legislative Council document, gross revenue of all food trucks between February 2017 and July 2020 was HK$51.02 million (US$6.58 million). In the first four months of the project, gross sales were HK$8.9 million, with income dropping significantly starting in 2019. The trucks pulled in just HK$167,000 between March and July this year.
Hong Kong Disneyland on Lantau Island has been the best business spot – with gross revenue for operators parked there hitting HK$28.4 million – followed by Art Square and Salisbury Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Gordon Lam Sui-wa, chairman of the Hong Kong Food Truck Federation, said officials met him and some other operators on Friday to explain the decision to extend the scheme, but businesses had not been consulted over the move beforehand.
Lam, who owns the Table Seven x W. Burger food truck, said some operators thought the government just wanted to drag the matter out further and avoid taking the blame for axing the initiative.
“[Some] feel that it doesn’t want to bear the responsibility – it doesn’t want to turn the project down and see us maybe asking for compensation,” said Lam, a member of the opposition Civic Party. “So it let us endure for another year and then if we can’t stand, we will have to leave naturally.”
Some operators had yet to decide whether they would continue to take part, he said.
“Although it’s a pilot scheme, it should have improved after problems were found. But after several years, the government didn’t remove venues we felt were not profitable or follow our suggestions. It has been about four years. It seems there has not been much improvement.”
Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing urged officials to give the trucks more choices as to where they park when tourists returned to the city. They could operate at more large events, Yiu said, adding: “It’s no good to see the scheme being nipped in the bud.”