ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A coalition has formed to urge the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to help keep off-highway food establishments open for truck drivers.
The coalition of groups represents cities and communities across the United States, off-highway foodservice businesses including truck stops and travel centers, and blind merchants that manage vending machines at interstate rest areas.
According to the groups, off-highway restaurants and foodservice operations are struggling to remain open as their sales fall 50 percent or more. If they close, professional drivers will struggle to conveniently access food options as they deliver essential supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coalition acknowledged the FHWA's recent decision to temporarily not enforce a ban on commercial activities at interstate rest areas with respect to food trucks, which the FHWA has said will only remain in place during the presidentially declared emergency. The coalition did not ask the FHWA to withdraw the non-enforcement notice, but urged food trucks to 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 truckstop and travel plazas remain open and are committed to serving truck drivers," said Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of NATSO. "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. 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," she added.
Coalition members stated that they would like to be collaborative partners with FHWA so that off-highway businesses can remain open during the pandemic and continue serving millions of truck drivers every week. According to them, the best way to ensure this can occur is to help those businesses survive and stay open during the pandemic.
In addition to NATSO, the coalition includes the National Restaurant Association; the International Franchise Association; the National League of Cities; NACS; the National Federation of the Blind; the National Automatic Merchandising Association; National Franchisee Association; National Retail Federation; Petroleum Marketers Association of America; and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.
The full letter to the FHWA is available here.