In a potentially critical development for off-highway businesses such as travel plazas and truckstops, the U.S. Department of Transportation is soliciting public input regarding expanding the types of goods and services that may be offered at highway rest areas located on the right-of-way. The Department is specifically requesting input as to what constitutes a "vending machine," noting that technological advancements in this area have been significant in recent years.
This is not a new rule, and is not even a proposed rule. It is, however, an indication that some state and potentially federal officials are considering an effort to expand the types of services that are permissible at highway rest areas. It represents the opening stage of that effort.
NATSO will lead an effort among a variety of stakeholders with investments in off-highway real estate to ensure that any policy proposals account for these off-highway businesses and the various cities and towns that rely on their tax revenue.
Under current law, states are prohibited from offering over-the-counter sales of merchandise at rest areas located on the Interstate. There are some exceptions to this, however. Specifically, the following types of commercial activity are permissible:
- Vending machines, the income from which as a general matter must be for the benefit of blind persons;
- Lottery machines;
- Distribution of travel-related information, including maps, travel booklets, and hotel coupon booklets;
- Sales of tickets for events or attractions in the State that are of a historical or tourism-related nature;
- Sales of items to promote tourism in the State, limited to books, DVDs, and other media;
- Installation of commercial advertising and media displays, if such advertising and displays are exhibited solely within any facility constructed in the rest area and are not legible from the main traveled way.
Recently, several State departments of transportation have raised questions regarding what constitutes a "vending machine" and consequently what can or should be allowed in Interstate rest areas. The Department of Transportation has asked for public input regarding "how certain provisions of current law should be interpreted and applied in consideration of advancements in technology...."
Beyond vending machines, however, the Department of Transportation is soliciting information on other types of commercial activities that should be permitted at highway rest areas.
It is not surprising that cash-strapped state departments of transportation are exploring all options at their disposal for generating revenue. It underscores the urgency for developing a self-sustaining transportation funding regime
at the federal level. One of the benefits of a good funding source is that it prevents governments from exploring bad funding sources, such as commercializing rest areas and tolling. NATSO has helped lead the fight in Washington develop a reasonable, sustainable transportation funding regime.
That the Department of Transportation is considering expanding the scope of permissible commercial activities at rest areas could represent a serious threat to NATSO members, as well as local cities and towns throughout the country. In the coming weeks, NATSO will be submitting detailed comments to the Department of Transportation outlining the industry's views and concerns. NATSO will also work with its member-companies to submit individual company comments to the Department of Transportation outlining their concerns as well.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact David Fialkov, NATSO's Vice President of Government Affairs and Regulatory Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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