Trucking Groups at Odds Over Allowing Food Trucks at Rest Areas
Washington D.C. – A coalition led by the National Association of Truckstop Operators (NATSO) is urging the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to commit to put the brakes on its newly issued non-enforcement notice allowing states to permit food truck operators at rest areas once the national emergency is over.
On Friday, April 3, the FHWA issued a notice to State Departments of Transportation that the agency is suspending enforcement measures under the Federal-Aid Highway Program for States that choose to permit commercial food trucks to operate and sell food in designated federally funded Interstate Highway rest areas.
By statute, commercial activity in the federally funded Interstate right-of-way is prohibited with limited exceptions.
However, FHWA Administrator Nicole R. Nason says that given the extreme and unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the action was needed.
“I am grateful to our state transportation partners for bringing this idea to the Department and for their leadership in thinking outside the box,” she said. “It is critical to make sure truck drivers continue to have access to food services while they’re on the job serving our nation during these challenging times.”
FHWA noted the non-enforcement directive is only temporary.
“States must come back into compliance with federal law once the Presidentially-declared emergency ends,” an FHWA statement said.
In response, NATSO along with ten trade associations, is arguing the new directive will hurt off-highway restaurant businesses, many of which are struggling to survive.
In a letter sent to Administrator Nason on Wednesday, NATSO’s coalition writes, “We hope that FHWA’s non-enforcement directive does not result in foodservice transactions being redirected to food trucks from nearby rest area vending machines or struggling off-highway businesses, but rather that food trucks operate solely at rest areas that are located on stretches of the Interstate where there are no open foodservice operations in close proximity that are available to truck drivers,” the letter states.
Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman, NATSO’s vice president of public affairs, tells Transportation Nation Network (TNN), permitting food trucks at rest areas is not only harmful to off-highway businesses, but it is not needed given that truck stops remain open and are continuing to serve food through to-go and drive thru options.
“I have not heard of a single truck stop that has shut down during the pandemic,” she said. “Truck stops are open and our number one concern remains ensuring that America’s truck drivers have places where they can eat and rest. We believe that the best way to ensure that is to help truck stops navigate, survive and stay open during this pandemic.”
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Further, NATSO is concerned that allowing food trucks at rest areas could open the door to more expansive policies further commercializing rest areas in the future, and is urging FHWA to honor its stated intent of discontinuing the non-enforcement order once the national emergency is over.
“We respectfully ask that you commit to not further expanding this non-enforcement guidance beyond food trucks during this epidemic, and once the state of emergency ends immediately revert back to enforcing the long-standing ban on commercializing Interstate rest areas,” NATSO’s letter urges.
To read the entire letter, click HERE.
OOIDA Blasts NATSO and Coalition Partners
The Owner Operator Independent Driver’s Association (OOIDA) is fiercely criticizing NATSO for its position.
In a statement, OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer blasted the coalition asserting, “It looks as though NATSO wants drivers to remain largely beholden to truck stops at all times, even during a national crisis.”
Further, Spencer said the coalition was displaying a “totally self-centered and short-sighted perspective.”
“We are not surprised they are fighting even temporary support for truckers in getting the meals they desperately need and are struggling to find while on the road,” he said.
In response, Nueman says NATSO is not seeking the disallowance of food trucks at rest areas amid the pandemic.
However, she reiterated the coalition’s desire to see FHWA end the non-enforcement period following the national emergency.
TNN will continue to follow new developments.
States Already Permitting Food Trucks at Rest Areas
Numerous States have already announced plans to move forward with permitting local food trucks to serve at rest areas.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) immediately moved to issue permits last week.
Just this week, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), and others, also began permitting food trucks to serve at rest areas.
In fact, INDOT says it will issue two permits for food trucks to operate between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., each day on a first-come, first-served basis at 24 rest area locations.
Click HERE to view these locations.