Three years ago Eco Travel Plaza owner Donald Demko never imagined that one day he would be in the truckstop and travel plaza business. But in 2008 Demko jumped in with both feet when the then operator of the 15 year old Crossville, Tenn., location owned by Demko’s real estate investment firm went bankrupt.
“It is exciting and challenging with lots of opportunity,” Demko said.
Demko brought with him a fresh outlook on the business that allows him to have an open mind on business solutions for the location. Demko and his staff aspire to be innovative about everything. They also put a premium on doing something good.
They provide a wide range of healthy products including reduced-sodium, diabetic and gluten-free snacks. They also have worked to cut the location’s energy usage in half.
Overall, Eco Travel Plaza has implemented or is planning to implement up to 40 total initiatives to increase the site’s energy efficiency, and to provide cleaner, healthier options to travelers and local customers.
Adding truckstop electrification (TSE) was one of Demko’s first major changes. TSE allows parked trucks to plug into power rather than idle. Demko has a Ph.D. in urban economics and a strong belief in the power of data. “We question everything,” he said.
Demko began his investigation into adding TSE by embarking on a massive learning tour. He wanted to “learn from the experts by talking to knowledgeable people and put their ideas into [the] business.” He flew more than 4,000miles to visit several NATSO members, including Jubitz Travel Center, Sacramento 49er Truck Plaza and Flynn’s Truck Plaza. In addition to allowing him to gather first-hand experience from his peers, the journey also allowed him to see the equipment in use.
His staff routinely conducts surveys of their customers and used this tactic to poll customers on TSE. He equipped his staff with a one-page survey of nine questions, including:
• Do you know what truckstop electrification, “TSE” or idling reduction is?
•Do you have an APU?
•How often are you in the area?
•Do you ever have a problem getting a parking space?
• Some companies are reimbursing their drivers who use TSE. Would you like us to contact them to see if they will pay for you?
Armed with his knowledge from site visits and the surveys, Demko decided to move forward with TSE. The next step was finding funding. To provide funding to help finance the project, Demko and his staff worked with many partners. They worked with two manufacturers of TSE, Shorepower and AireDock, to find and write the proposals for grants. They also worked with a nonprofit partner—East Tennessee Clean Fuels—to successfully apply for $582,000 in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The grant allowed them to install TSE equipment for all 50 of the site’s truck parking spots.
They chose to install two kinds of TSE to offer more choices to the truck drivers. It also allowed them to minimize the total cost and necessary construction while increasing effective parking spaces by 10 percent. The 18 AireDock stations offer plug-in capability and window-type HVAC systems, and the 32 Shorepower pedestal system stations offer multi-amperage, plug-in capabilities. Both offer WiFi access to the truck driver, as well.
“The EPA allowed us to have imagination and flexibility,” Demko said. With the EPA’s blessing, they chose to install the equipment themselves rather than have the manufacturers do it. This saved $160,000, but the choice did increase the time it took to install the equipment. Demko was able to use the money saved to add solar panels to their canopies and replace regular light bulbs with LED light bulbs.
This is just the beginning for Eco Travel Plaza. Demko said, “Our goal now is to further reduce our energy footprint and become energy neutral—to create a real ‘Eco’ Travel Plaza.”
This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazine. Stop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.
The magazine is mailed to NATSO members bimonthly. If you are a member and not receiving Stop Watch, submit a request to be added to the mailing list. Not a member? Join today or submit a request to receive additional information.
Subscribe to Updates
NATSO provides a breadth of information created to strengthen travel plazas’ ability to meet the needs of the travelling public in an age of disruption. This includes knowledge filled blog posts, articles and publications. If you would like to receive a digest of blog post and articles directly in your inbox, please provide your name, email and the frequency of the updates you want to receive the email digest.