NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings discussed the travel plaza and truckstop industry’s opposition to commercializing rest areas with Road Dog Trucking radio on Sirius XM Channel 146. Mullings appeared on the radio program after the Reason Foundation said in a separate interview that the industry should rethink its opposition to the long-standing law prohibiting commercial rest areas.
During an interview with Program Director Mark Willis, Mullings refuted claims that commercial rest areas represent an “opportunity” for truckstops and travel plazas and that commercial rest areas could partner with local truckstops to operate the rest areas. Mullings further refuted claims that commercial rest areas expand services for the truck driving community.
“That’s not the way things have been handled so far,” Mulling said. “The Northeast has quite a lot of commercial rest areas so we know what would happen because it already exists today.” Currently 14 states operate commercial rest areas that were grandfathered in before commercial rest areas were prohibited by federal law in 1960.
Mullings said businesses that have invested millions of dollars at the interstate exits, including truckstops, gas station, restaurants, hotels and convenience stores, are unwilling to undercut their business by supporting a state-owned monopoloy located directly on the Interstate right-of-way.
“The’ve already invested a lot of money and then they are going to undercut their business by supporting a state owned rest area on the shoulder? It just doesn’t make sense.”
A study conducted by Virginia Tech found that when commercial rest areas unfairly compete with the private sector from a prime location on the Interstate, the private sector loses upwards of 40 percent of its restaurant and fuel sales.
Mullings underscored that commercial rest areas are not designed to meet the long-term needs of truck drivers, noting that corridors with commercialized rest areas provide 70 percent fewer truck parking spaces than non-commercialized corridors. Ninety-percent of truck parking in the United States is provided by the private sector.
Commercial rest areas are disinclined to put in truck parking because it is expensive and does not fit with their business model of getting customers in and out as quickly as possible.
“The don’t want the expense of having truck drivers come in and park there for hours potentially if they are on break and just take up space,” Mullings said. “They want to churn ‘em and burn ‘em.”
When asked if there was support for commercializing rest areas on Capitol Hill as lawmakers begin to discuss the reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund, which funds the bulk of U.S. transportation projects, Mullings noted that both the House and the Senate are working on their reauthorization measures, but neither has indicated support for repealing the ban on commercial rest areas.
The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee held a hearing on July 10 in anticipation of putting forward its reauthorization package by the August recess and the issue of commercial rest areas did not come up. EPW Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) also sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in 2017 expressing his opposition to commercial rest areas.
On the House side, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has voiced opposition to public private partnerships and has referred to these types of revenue schemes as fake.
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