If there’s one thing that truckers and industry insiders agree on, it’s that our nation’s rest areas and parking options need some serious improvement. When addressing the infrastructure question, additional services at rest stops needs to be part of the equation.
With forces in Capital Hill and the White House preparing for a big fight on infrastructure spending, whether it’s between Democrats and Republicans or within forces in each party, one can only wonder where funding for rest areas will fall once the dust settles.
Fortunately, there are some historical precedents to take a look at here, as well as near-constant themes always haunting this issue. Let’s dig a little deeper.
An Old Issue
The fact is, the issue of rest area availability – including commercial activities at rest stops – predates Trump’s arrival in Washington. The Federal Highway Administration has been seeking comments on the issue for some time. Specific items of inquiry include produce sales and additional vending machine at truck stops, in addition to a request for more parking.
Although a public-private partnership to support greater access and options at the nation’s rest stops seems like a no-brainer, it isn’t supported by everyone. The truck stop trade group, National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO) says the idea would undercut highway-based businesses.
Still, the main issue remains, and that’s available parking. It’s no secret that available parking at truck stops has been shrinking steadily for years. Not only is additional parking important, but truck stops must be able to generate profit while being a welcome place for truckers to stop, with access to both food and basic services.
Parking is a Constant Issue
While truck stops continue to add more parking, it never seems to catch up with the current demand. Compounding the problem is zoning restrictions and local resistance whenever a truck stop tries to expand their trucking options.
The problem has gotten so bad that major truck stop chains have begun selling parking reservations. Consider that highway capacity and maintenance hasn’t kept up with the increase in freight traffic, and it’s obvious where this is turning into a serious issue.
So, what’s the solution? Some are pointing to greater rest stop commercialization as a potential answer, but is it? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Commercializing Rest Stops
Ask any number of truckers or fleet managers if they support commercial activities if it helps to create more options, from commercial services to parking, and they’ll respond with a resounding affirmative.
While NATSO opposed more commercialization of rest stops, some think the organization’s concern is misplaced. The specific argument here is that if state-facilitated rest stops are limited to such an extent that they may not even be considered “truck stops”, where’s the harm?
The fact is, a trucker won’t pass up a decent meal at a truck stop just to get a vending machine snack at a state-run facility. No matter which way you slice it, there simply aren’t enough places for truckers to park, so whatever can be done to improve the situation, whether it’s commercialization or otherwise, should be welcomed.
Parking must be considered as one of the basic utilities of both public and private truck stops. The current model – which NATSO is in favor of – of not expanding enroute parking, could be a sign of the organization’s self-interest and doesn’t seem sustainable.
As truckers increasingly look for places to park amid a shrinking parking landscape, industry insiders must consider taking extraordinary measures to address the situation, even if it means going against what groups like NATSO are proposing, which is really nothing more than the status quo.