ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has been asked to help keep off-highway food sources open for truck drivers by a coalition of groups representing cities and communities across America, off-highway food-service businesses including truck stops and travel centers, and blind merchants that manage vending machines at Interstate rest areas.
In an April 8 letter to FHWA Administrator Nicole Nason, the coalition noted that off-highway restaurants and food-service operations are struggling to remain open and keep people employed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to an April 9 release from the coalition, many of these vendors have seen sales drop by 50%t or more. If these businesses are unable to remain open, it will exacerbate the trucking community’s concerns with respect to convenient access to food options as they heroically deliver essential supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, the release continued.
The coalition referred to FHWA’s recent decision to temporarily not enforce the long-standing ban on commercial activities at Interstate rest areas with respect to food trucks during the presidentially declared emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The coalition did not ask the FHWA to withdraw the non-enforcement notice but did urge that food trucks operate at rest areas where there are no other nearby options for truck drivers.
“Although some state rest areas have closed during the pandemic, private truck stops and travel plazas remain open and are committed to serving truck drivers,” said Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of NATSO, an organization that represents truck stops and travel plazas.
“If there are places where truck drivers are finding it difficult to find something to eat, we don’t oppose food trucks at rest areas. This is a national emergency, and we need to explore unconventional solutions,” she said. “But if food trucks at a rest area hurt local businesses that are already struggling to remain open, professional drivers ultimately will have even more difficulty finding places to eat. They will have fewer food choices if these businesses close, and they will struggle to find showers and parking, too.”
Nicholas Gacos, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants expressed concerns about food trucks operating at rest stops that have food-vending options.
“Blind merchants, many of whose sole source of income is through vending machines at rest areas, are struggling to remain afloat,” Gacos said. “We strongly urge federal, state and local government officials to keep this in mind as they consider the advisability of permitting food trucks to compete with us at Interstate rest areas.”
The coalition members said they would like to be collaborative partners with FHWA so that off-highway businesses can remain open during the pandemic and continue to serve millions of truck drivers every week. The best way to ensure this can occur, the coalition wrote, is to help those businesses survive and stay open during this pandemic.
The coalition includes NATSO, the International Franchise Association, the National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Automatic Merchandising Association, the National Federation of the Blind, the National Franchise Association, the National League of Cities, the National Restaurant Association, the National Retail Federation, the Petroleum Marketers Association of America and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.
Read the letter to FHWA here.