WASHINGTON—Across the nation, truckers are at work and truck stops are open to help them get their jobs done, according to a report from CNN. Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation said truck stops qualify as an “essential business” and are too vital to shut down.
"In the coming weeks and months, it will be critical that these businesses remain open 24 hours a day," said Jim Mullen, acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates the nation's trucking industry.
Keeping truck stops open is especially important as more truckers work longer hours. The federal government has eased restrictions on the number of work hours permitted for those drivers moving critical supplies, such as medical equipment, sanitizer and food. And although truck drivers spend a lot of time in isolation, they are still vulnerable to coronavirus.
"They're socially isolated 95% of the time, but that other 5% literally everyone is touching the exact same bathrooms and fuel pumps. That's a huge concern," said Steve Viscelli, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist who studies the trucking industry.
To help keep drivers and truck stop employees healthy, many truck stops have adopted new policies. At some locations, drivers must use disposable cups instead of filling their own personal mugs with coffee, and the lounges where drivers typically gather to rest and watch TV are being closed. Sit-down restaurants have shut down, and truckers must choose from takeout menus instead.
Pilot Flying J, with truck stops in 44 states and six Canadian provinces, said its team members have been cleaning showers after each use with degreaser, disinfectant and floor cleaner. Gaming rooms are restricted to three participants at a time. Employees showing any symptoms of illness are required to stay home, and the company has implemented an emergency sick leave policy, so workers don’t need to worry about being paid while they recover.
Jon Pertchik, CEO of Travel Centers of America, which operates more than 260 truck stops in the U.S. and Canada, said there's been a drop in gasoline sales this week due to less auto traffic, but diesel sales are up, most likely the result of truck drivers making deliveries during the pandemic.
Love's, the 500-plus truck stop chain, reports that all locations are open, and more frequent and vigorous cleaning and disinfecting policies are in place. The self-service food offerings, such as the roller grill and drink bars, are now full-serve, with Love’s team members providing service to customers.
Effective yesterday, Love’s restaurants are now open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time to allow for enhanced cleaning. “Our restaurants will continue to offer take-out and drive-thru options during these new hours but not during the overnight closure,” Love’s said in a Twitter post. At locations where it has three restaurants, Love’s said one of them will close for the time being. “All other restaurants will move to modified business hours to allow for an overnight closing.”
Meanwhile, truckers face hurdles to getting their jobs done. The Wall Street Journal reports that some customers are asking drivers to stay in their trucks or switch from paper to electronic methods to document pickups and deliveries. And some drivers are facing new restrictions at receiving docks if they have been in states considered coronavirus hot zones.
“Some of the shippers and receivers are asking drivers to sign affidavits that they are not sick,” said Linda Allen, owner of Hardcore Trucking, a trucking company based in Spring Hill, Fla., that hauls refrigerated loads. “They are not allowed to use the restroom, not allowed to use the building. They don’t want drivers in the facilities.”
Last week, Pennsylvania closed its state-run rest stops, cutting back significantly on parking space for truckers along key logistics corridors. But after complaints, the state reopened 13 rest areas for truck parking with portable toilets that will be cleaned once a day.
The American Trucking Associations industry group has officially requested that the Trump Administration exempt truckers delivering essential goods from restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic. The group asked for rest stops to be kept open and for guidance on driver health, including possible testing for COVID-19.
“Absent policies like these, it will be more difficult to ensure that the shelves are stocked and emergency supplies reach first responders and medical personnel,” said Chris Spear, ATA Chief Executive.
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.