In a piece of deregulatory good news, at least 11 states have begun allowing food trucks to operate at rest areas. These actions are included in Americans for Tax Reform’s running list of nationwide deregulatory actions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rest areas are typically owned and run by state transportation departments and offer a meek selection of vending machine chips and cookies. Food selections are limited for truckers and families who spend days and nights traveling through the United States.
During the pandemic, many states have opted to close these rest areas while truckers are expected to work longer hours, carry heavier loads, and do more deliveries. Some states have recognized this problem and opened up rest areas to the private market; namely, they have allowed food trucks to serve motorists at rest areas.
After the Department of Transportation 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, at least 11 states followed suit:
“The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) will issue temporary permits for certified food truck operators to serve truckers at two rest stops in the state, according to a release from the Arkansas Trucking Association on Thursday. The move is an effort to ensure greater food options for truck drivers during the month of April so that they have a safe place to eat while carrying essential goods and aid to communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.” – KNWA FOX 24 (4/2/2020)
“Florida will now allow food trucks to operate at select rest stops, after a Channel 3 investigation found that the state was behind on a national effort to keep truckers fed and on schedule during this coronavirus pandemic.” – Channel 3 WEAR TV (4/8/2020)
“INDOT has launched a program to allow licensed food truck drivers and vendors to set up at a rest area throughout the state,” said Debbie Calder. She is the Communications Director for the Indiana Department of Transportation. It’s a temporary program that will help essential travelers who are dealing with a limited availability of food due to COVID-19 restaurant restrictions.” – WLFI News 18 (4/9/2020)
“To address one of the biggest challenges truck drivers face, access to a hot meal, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is temporarily opening the state’s 86 rest areas to food trucks. “Truck drivers are the lifeblood of the economy and their jobs have never been more critical than now,” said Governor Mike DeWine. “I’ve heard from many in the trucking industry that finding a place to eat while they’re on the road has been tough, but we’re here to help.”” – Ohio Department of Transportation (4/10/2020)
“The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) today announced that food trucks will be permitted to set up in several rest areas along Connecticut highways, with the goal of feeding hungry truckers and other essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The action is the result of an Executive Order issued today by Governor Ned Lamont, lifting restrictions on commercial activity in highway rest areas.” – Connecticut Department of Transportation (4/10/2020)
“Gov. Justice announces that the West Virginia Division of Highways has set guidelines allowing for food trucks at rest areas as a temporary measure to ease the burden on truck drivers during the ongoing pandemic.” – Office of Governor Jim Justice (4/13/2020)
“The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) shall issue no-fee permits to mobile food vendors otherwise licensed pursuant to A.R.S. 36-136(I)(4) to provide take-away food service at state rest areas.” – Office of Governor Doug Ducey (4/15/2020), Executive Order: 2020-31
“An emergency exemption by the Idaho Transportation Department will allow permitted food trucks to set up at rest areas and offer hot meals to truck drivers and other travelers.
“We heard truck drivers were having difficulties finding hot meals with the restrictions placed on nonessential businesses during the stay-at-home order,” said Nestor Fernandez, ITD’s Mobility Services Engineer. “Our goal is to support them as best as we can during this pandemic, especially long-haul drivers delivering goods across the U.S.”” – Idaho Transportation Department (4/16/2020)
“Consistent with the FHWA’s April 3, 2020 Notice of Enforcement Discretion, the restrictions in Minnesota Statutes 2019, sections 160.08, subdivision 7, and 160.2725, subdivision 1, are waived to the extent that they prohibit commercial food trucks from operating and selling food in designated highway rest areas.” – Office of Governor Tim Walz (5/1/2020)
“I temporarily suspend the restriction in C.R.S. § 43-3-101(3) that no commercial enterprise shall be conducted or authorized on any property designated as or acquired for or in connection with a freeway or highway by the department of transportation, or any other governmental agency for commercial food truck. I direct the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Transportation to issue temporary permits to allow commercial food trucks in Colorado’s rest and commercial trucking refueling areas to support truckers and commercial vehicle activity.” – Office of Governor Jared Polis (5/2/2020)
“The order also extends permission for commercially-licensed food trucks to operate in roadside rest areas, in compliance with a temporary permit issued by Caltrans…” – Office of Governor Gavin Newsom (6/15/2020)
Along with helping truckers and motorists stay fed, Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin explains that this change will offer business opportunities for food trucks hit hard by stay-at-home health orders.
These deregulatory orders should be made permanent. This would help truckers, families, and food trucks by providing more substantive, cost-effective, nutritional food options. Additionally, locally-owned food trucks are then allowed to expand where they conduct business and help showcase local and regional foods.
A potential consequence of the pandemic is that Americans may increase car travel. Expanded food options would be immensely beneficial for the states, travelers, and businesses typically shut out by contractual agreements between states and restaurant vendors.
Americans for Tax Reform has a running list of COVID-induced federal, state, and local deregulations, which can be found at www.ATR.org/Rules.