NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings reaffirmed that truckstops and travel plazas nationwide are open and operating to serve the nation’s truck drivers in a recent interview with Transport Topics radio, which airs on Sirius XM.
Mullings said that confusion in the media and the general public about the difference between a public rest area and a truckstop led to misreporting about the operating status of the truckstop and travel plaza industry as states issued lockdown, shelter in place or stay at home orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several state Departments of Transportation, including Pennsylvania, closed their public rest areas. Truckstops and travel plazas, which were deemed essential businesses by the Department of Homeland Security, continued their operations, however.
“A handful of states closed their rest areas and everyone assumed truckstops were closing,” Mullings said. “But I’m not aware of a single truckstop that closed in the entire country. They may have had to limit their hours or their offerings because of state or local restrictions, but they are open and they are all serving food.
“Our members feel that they need to stay open to so that they can keep the truck drivers going,” Mullings said.
Mullings highlighted that truckstops and travel plazas have transitioned their food offerings for drivers to take-out and curbside delivery as states ordered restaurants to temporarily suspend their dine-in restaurant operations.
Thousands of local jurisdictions across the country issued their own restrictions on business operations that differed from those issued by the Trump Administration or the Centers for Disease Control and other public health officials.
Responding to questions about NATSO’s position on food trucks operating at rest areas during the pandemic, Mullings said that the industry as a general rule opposes any commercial activity at rest areas. During the national pandemic, however, NATSO did not ask the Federal Highway Administration to rescind its order stating that the agency would temporarily not enforce the prohibition on the sale of food at rest.
NATSO, along with a coalition of business and community leaders, including the National Restaurant Association, National League of Cities, the National Association of Blind Merchants, National Association of Convenience Stores, and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America among others asked FHWA to recommend that states only place the food trucks at rest areas where there aren’t any other food options nearby.
“Businesses must be careful about their ability to stay open …. they have a lot less volume coming through their doors,” Mullings said. “Any diversion of food sales to a rest area would threaten that business. Where would the drivers stop to get fuel and to shower? Food is not the only thing that drivers need.
“If we want businesses to stay open, we need to minimize the impact of this on them, however, we’re not opposing the rest areas having food trucks during the emergency,” Mullings said.
FHWA said that it will enforce the prohibition on states selling food, fuel and other commercial services at rest areas after the pandemic.
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