NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings submitted the following to Overdrive Magazine in response to its June 5 article, "Could Commercialization Stem Rest Area Closures."
With truck parking on the top of drivers’ list of concerns, it is reasonable that Overdrive would initially ask “Could commercialization stem tide of rest area closures?” as you did in a June 5 article. After researching the issue, however, that question should have been revised to focus on the real problem: whether rest area commercialization would result in more parking.
You see, the answers to these two questions are different. In fact, rest area commercialization would likely reduce truck parking.
State departments of transportation are inclined to support commercialization because they view it as an easy way to make more money. The North Carolina Department of Transportation confirmed this in your article, stating that it could earn $26 million if each of the 26 million rest area visitors spent just $1 at a commercial rest area.
The fact is, however, that creating truck parking spaces at rest areas costsfar more money than it generates. Indeed, it costs approximately $10,000 per truck parking space (because of additional layers of concrete as well as navigating local permitting and zoning ordinances). If states are struggling to come up with the necessary funds to keep rest areas open today, it is highly unlikely that they would invest in truck parking if they were suddenly permitted to commercialize the rest areas. The North Carolina DOT official that Overdrive spoke with confirms this, stating that the easiest way to generate revenues is through the addition of amenities such as food services -- not truck parking.
This would not be in professional drivers’ interests. As the survey referenced in the article notes, drivers are not looking for additional places to buy grab-and-go food; they want more places to park and they want to be able to take a shower.
In other words, they want all of the amenities available at traditional truckstops.
But commercializing rest areas would hurt traditional truckstops, making it less likely that new locations will open and more likely that existing locations will close.
A recent study (that went unmentioned in your article) confirms this. The report titled “Rest Area Commercialization and Truck Parking Capacity 2018” conducted by Safety for the Long-Haul found that there are 69 percent more truck parking spaces per mile along non-commercialized Interstate Highway corridors than commercialized corridors.
To be more specific, in the states where commercial rest areas pre-date the federal prohibition, private businesses offered more than 60,000 truck parking spaces on non-commercialized corridors. The study also showed that the private sector provides one truck parking facility every 8.4 miles compared with just one parking facility nearly every 13 miles on corridors when there are commercial rest areas. In these states, department of transportation officials made the decision that they could make more money investing in fast food restaurants than in truck parking capacity. There is no reason to think that other states would operate any differently.
The dynamics that create this disparity between the commercial and non-commercial corridors are important for any state seeking to expand its truck parking capacity to understand.
In essence, government funded competition at highway rest areas does not compete with off-highway businesses on a level playing field. State governments monopolize the business of motorists and truck drivers by granting the company awarded a contract to operate the commercial rest area at a prime spot located directly along the interstate right-of-way that private businesses are forbidden from developing.
As commercial rest areas siphon customers from an advantageous location directly on the Interstate, the private businesses situated at the exit interchanges lose as much as 35 percent of fuel, convenience and restaurant sales. Such heavy losses mean those businesses are no longer profitable enough to expand or reinvest in such amenities as truck parking capacity.
While at first glance, commercializing rest areas seems like an easy way for state departments of transportation to get more money, the fact is this would devastate all of the businesses that for the last 50 years have been established at the interchanges to meet the needs of highway travelers. This includes the truckstops and travel plazas that have invested along the Interstate Highway System and provide 90 percent of the nation’s truck parking capacity.
NATSO certainly appreciates the need on the part of states to close gaping budget deficits and their desire to expand truck parking capacity. But commercializing rest areas will in fact undercut those goals by destroying the very businesses that are best equipped to meet the needs of the truck driving community.
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.