NATSO Discusses Rest Area Commercialization, Truck Parking With DOT

NATSO met with various Department of Transportation officials last week to discuss a number of issues concerning the truckstop and travel plaza industry.

NATSO met with various Department of Transportation officials last week to discuss a number of issues concerning the truckstop and travel plaza industry.

During separate meetings, NATSO urged DOT to ensure that the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is in full compliance with the federal law prohibiting commercial services at rest areas. NATSO also told agency officials that any new policy proposals should recognize the business environment within which travel plazas operate given that privately run truckstops are the primary providers of truck parking in the United States. Government-run rest areas offering food and fuel and other retail services alter the competitive landscape to a degree that substantially reduces the number of available truck parking spaces near the interstate.

NATSO recently learned that the state of New York is violating the federal ban on commercializing interstate rest areas by selling food and beverages at newly-constructed welcome centers and rest areas along the Interstate Highway System right-of-way.

Federal law prohibits a state from selling commercial services at and rest areas that are built after 1960. The law sets forth specific, narrow exceptions to this broad prohibition, including promotional books, DVDs and “other media” that promotes tourism within a state. In addition, states are permitted to sell food and drink in vending machines under 23 USC 111(c).

New York state officials claim that sales of certain foods not sold from vending machines are a "form of media" and "promote tourism" and thus fall under a narrow exception to the general ban on commercial sales at rest areas.

DOT has said that it is working to bring New York into compliance with the law. However, the Department also is soliciting public input regarding expanding the types of goods and services that may be offered at rest areas located on the Interstate right-of-way. Specifically, DOT is requesting input as to what constitutes a “vending machine,” noting that technological advancements in this area have been significant in recent years.

NATSO believes that existing law intended for vending to encompass only ancillary goods that can be dispensed automatically after payment and without human interaction.

NATSO will submit detailed comments on behalf of the industry.

Given that this a potentially critical development for the truckstop and travel plaza industry, NATSO members are urged to submit personal letters to FHWA by Dec. 27 detailing how expanding the definition of vending machine will hurt the industry. To submit a letter to the Federal Highway Administration, please click here. 

In a separate truck parking stakeholder meeting, NATSO reminded DOT and stakeholders that commercial rest areas have a negative effect on truck parking. NATSO specifically pointed to the solicitation of public comment on expanding the definition vending at commercial rest areas, and reminded stakeholders that truckstops and travel plazas are the primary providers of truck parking in the United States and need a healthy business climate in order to operate and expand. Any proposal that makes the business environment more difficult for NATSO members will be counter-productive.

A 2010 NATSO Foundation review of the 14 states that currently offer commercial services revealed that these services do not add to the total parking capacity for trucks and instead actually constrict truck parking. When state departments of transportation are permitted to provide commercial services at their rest areas, private businesses refrain from competing against these facilities. Private businesses ultimately close, resulting in a net loss in truck parking capacity.

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