Travel plazas, truckstops to stay open, serving US truck drivers

The National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO), which represents the travel plaza and truckstop industry, says its members intend to remain open and continue to serve the professional drivers who are transporting supplies and goods in support of COVID-19 emergency relief. Travel centers and truckstops across the United States continue to provide food, fuel and the other essential amenities needed by professional drivers, including showers. “Truck drivers are depending on truckstops and travel centers as they deliver food and life-saving supplies,” said Lisa Mullings, NATSO’s president and CEO. “Our  members are committed to doing their part during the nation’s response to this emergency.

As the nation confronts the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s travel centers and truckstops are committed to remaining open and serving America’s drivers. “Fuel retailers are ‘essential’ businesses that must remain open even if other ‘nonessential’ businesses are forced to close.” Travel centers are well-positioned to serve the nation’s hard-working, professional drivers during this critical time.

Although some states have ordered the closing of sit-down restaurants, travel plazas and truckstops offer many food options, including quick-serve food and healthy grab-and-go options. Even where restaurants are prohibited from offering sit-down table service, travel centers are converting those restaurants to allow for take-out options. “In these difficult times it is essential that the American people can count on the nation’s professional truck drivers to continue delivering food and other essential products to communities throughout the country,” Mullings said. “The truckstop and travel center industry is committed to continuing to play the important role of feeding and fueling truck drivers.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is expanding its national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The “FMCSA is providing additional regulatory relief to our nation’s commercial drivers to get critically important medical supplies, food, and household goods to Americans in need,” FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen said March 18. “The nation’s truck drivers are on the front lines of this effort and are critical to America’s supply chain. We will continue to support them and use our authority to protect the health and safety of the American people.

COVID-19, a novel coronavirus, has upended the American economy and created supply chain concerns across North America. From reduced imports from Asia to limited travel for everyday Americans, the virus has led to many Americans to stock up on essentials, leading to essential businesses such as grocery stores being stretched to their limits.  Freight rates have been rising as carriers work to keep up with consumers’ demands as the U.S. grapples with the biggest pandemic in the U.S. since the 1918 influenza pandemic, commonly known as the Spanish flu, which infected more than a quarter of the world’s population.

The COVID-19 infection rate is still not known as a shortage of testing equipment has left health officials without firm data.  DAT freight forecasts are predicting truckload rates higher than last year this spring — but prices may not stay consistent with normal seasonality. “The impact of the coronavirus will add volatility to freight flows, as surges in consumer demand alternate with potential constraints on imports, exports, and industrial production,” Ken Adamo, chief of analytics at DAT, said this week. “Our predictive models continue to update, anticipating and accounting for these atypical trends when forecasting demand, capacity, and rates in the coming months.”

Ford, GM and Fiat-Chrysler agreed on March 18 to suspend production until at least March 30 after the UAW asked the Big 3 automakers to halt production to help prevent the spread of the virus among workers. To make sure those drivers who are on the road have a safe place to stop, shop and rest, the National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO), which represents the travel plaza and truckstop industry, said its members intend to remain open and continue to serve the professional drivers who are transporting supplies and goods in support of COVID-19 emergency relief. FMCSA’s expanded declaration provides for regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations providing direct assistance supporting emergency relief efforts intended to meet immediate needs for:

  • Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19
  • Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants
  • Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores
  • Immediate precursor raw materials — such as paper, plastic or alcohol–that are required and to be used for the manufacture of essential items
  • Fuel
  • Equipment, supplies and persons needed to establish and manage temporary housing or quarantines
  • Persons designated by federal, state or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes
  • Persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services

The expanded declaration stipulates that direct assistance does not include routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of the emergency declaration.

To ensure continued safety on the nation’s roadways, the emergency declaration stipulates that once a driver has completed his or her delivery, the driver must spend a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and 8 hours if transporting passengers. 

FMCSA’s initial emergency declaration issued on March 13 was the first time the agency issued nation-wide relief like this.

It followed President Trump issuing a national emergency declaration in response to the virus. 

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