Does commercializing rest area parking lead to more or less parking spaces? When I first saw the NATSO study,(National Association of Truck Stop Owners) Rest Area Commercialization and Truck Parking Capacity: 2018 Update, I had to shake my head in disbelief. Their recent conclusions have suggested that if highway rest areas are allowed to be commercialized then eventually it will lead to less truck parking. How is that? Especially since many states can’t afford to keep their non commercialized rest areas open, leading to ZERO parking spots available.
Truck Parking has been a major issues for MANY years and has been considered by the DOT to be a number one priority. With the strict enforcement of the 14 hour HOS through the ELD mandate, the truck parking problem is expected to get even worse. One example is that many drivers are held up at shippers and receivers for extended periods of time, are not allowed to park on their property, and then run out of hours to find safe parking. That’s just one example.
Many of the states have had to close down their rest areas because of lack of funding for upkeep.
The most common sense remedy for this would be to commercialize rest areas, right? But no, there is a 50 year old law which states that highway rest areas can not be commercialized.
On Aug. 27, 1958, Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Public Law 85-767 into law, better known as Title 23 of the U.S. Code which regulates the role of highways. Section 111 of that title prohibited states from permitting “automotive service stations or other commercial establishments for serving motor vehicle users to be constructed or located on the rights-of-way of the Interstate System.”
The NATSO research and analysis conclusions is in response is to the Trump administration infrastructure plan which includes the commercialization of interstate rest areas. NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings has said, “We urge the Administration to refrain from widespread tolling of America’s infrastructure and the commercialization of interstate rest areas.”
Although there are many within the trucking industry who would agree with the “widespread” tolling part of her statement, most would disagree with, especially truck drivers, with the second half of that statement regarding rest areas being commercialized. Most truckers would like to see the rest areas open, and if that means being commercialized, so be it.
NATSO’s study methodology is simple and black and white, lacking a few variables to test. It compares currently commercialized interstate segments to non-commercialized segments in terms of the number of truck parking spaces each one has per mile (on average.)
It implies that if states began commercializing rest stops, truck stops would start disappearing and so would their parking spaces.
Andy Warcaba of CommercialRest Areas.com gives his response to the NATSO truck parking study. NATSO claims that interstates with amenities and stores on the interstate right-of-way, not just off the exits—have fewer truck parking spaces per mile than non-commercialized interstates.
On February 6 of this year, NATSO released an updated report on what they view as the negative impact of commercializing rest areas on the National Highway System. The study – Rest Area Commercialization and Truck Parking Capacity: 2018 Update – purports to demonstrate that any effort to underwrite the cost of operating a rest area with even the most modest commercial enterprise would have a dire impact on the availability of truck parking.
While we applaud NATSO’s advocacy to promote anti-human trafficking programs and their work with their members to continuously improve local operations, NATSO has a clear mission: “to advance the success of truck stop and travel plaza members by delivering solutions to members’ challenges and achieving the public policy goals of the truckstop and travel plaza industry.”
But clearly the needs of professional drivers and the freight industry are not the same as the needs of the truckstop operators. Any commercial activity beyond modest vending has been prohibited at new non-toll highway rest areas for over 57 years. Yet the crisis over parking for trucks has intensified. Simply, truckstops and travel plazas – with no real competition – has been unable to provide adequate overnight parking for drivers’ federally-mandated breaks and rest periods.
In our opinion, we need a honest debate about how best to provide safe and secure parking. That discussion is not helped with a biased study with a flawed methodology.
Specifically, the number of truck parking spaces on non-toll highways includes all the taxpayer-supported rest areas. In general, toll roads do not have conventional rest areas. A more meaningful metric would be to tally the number of truck stop only parking vs. the number of truck spaces provided at the commercialized rest areas. Frankly, NATSO’s case against expanded commercial offerings would fall apart. When NATSO tallies the number of truck parking spaces on a non-toll road, they add in the parking count of the conventional rest areas. If you backed out rest areas and only counted spaces at truck stops and travel plazas, toll road service plazas do a better job of meeting parking demand. In short, the report is flawed and self-serving.
Without new approaches to financing rest areas, non-toll highways without rest areas may not be a hypothesis. For over a decade, State-level Departments of Transportation have struggled to do more with less and there has been a dramatic number of facility closures.
Finally, NATSO could provide an important service to its 1,500+ members in helping them to respond to Request for Proposals when an opportunity to bid on a commercialized rest area becomes available. After all, these stops do not feature “DOT Burgers & Fries”. Rather, the private sector with national brands and regional concepts is what makes Service Plazas successful and profitable for all parties.
An additional reason that less truck parking capacity can be found at a particular commercial service area, is that many of these super highways were designed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. At that time, the designers/planners never anticipated the dramatic growth and change that we have experienced in the Trucking Industry today. Initially, commercialized rest areas were offered to the motoring public, but they were not designed to accommodate the truck