President and CEO of NATSO, Lisa Mullings, answers questions about what truck stops need to do to better support drivers.
President and CEO of NATSO
Truck drivers often mention the desire for healthier and more versatile food options. How is the industry trying to accommodate this desire with healthier and fresher food options that will keep drivers energized, full and healthy?
In general, we Americans are simultaneously more health-conscious and dining out more than ever. We expect that food service businesses will offer fresh foods with whole ingredients and fewer additives. We want restaurants to meet our special diet needs, and we look for gluten-free and sugar-free options. Food allergies and sensitivities are reportedly on the rise, too. Also, Americans want transparency —they want to be able to see a food item, read the label and check the “best used by” date before they buy. Professional truck drivers are likely even more interested in sugar-free or heart-healthy options because they are considerably older than the average American worker. Besides the trend in healthier food, we see more truck stops offering a more diverse menu, with sushi chefs on staff and locations that are stocking fresh sushi in their refrigerated case. It’s no longer uncommon to find edamame or kale salads being sold alongside fresh fruits, yogurts and granola in even smaller truck stops. The same types of changes are happening with beverages. More locations today are selling natural and organic drinks, drinks without high fructose corn syrup or drinks with less sugar.
Truck drivers can’t always afford to make several stops to take care of everything they need. How are truck stops adapting to serve as the “one-stop shop” solution that drivers need to maintain and improve their well-being?
In general, Americans are spending twice as much of their food dollar today on eating out as they did in 1955, but most of that growth has gone to “grab and go” food. Professional drivers in particular want food that is fast and healthy. With the federal hours-of-service regulations, worsening traffic congestion and strict delivery windows, drivers are looking for speed and convenience. Today customers might find a medical clinic, chiropractor or dentist at a truck stop. In addition to exercise rooms, truck stops have added walking trails and bicycle paths or dog parks. A driver taking a mandatory rest break might get his or her hair cut at a truck stop. Drivers today also can have personal packages delivered to a truck stop for easier pick-up.
What are some changes truck stops are making to handle faster customer turnaround in light of new regulations related to driver hours?
Never before has speedy service been so important. One reason is the electronic logging device mandate; another is the growth in the amount of time drivers spend in traffic or waiting to pick up or deliver loads. In addition, carriers want the process of fueling to speed up so they can maximize a driver’s income-earning drive time. In light of the serious driver shortage, a carrier is more likely to consider driver complaints about slow service when choosing where to fuel. Truck stops are evaluating that desire for faster turnaround times from all angles. 20 years ago, a retail operator sought to bring a driver into their location and have them spend as much time as possible in the store, but today’s retailers are working to get drivers in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible so that drivers can maximize their on-duty time. In response, truck stops are offering more fresh, grab-and-go foods; when choosing a new franchise food option, they carefully consider the amount of time it takes to order and serve the food. Store layouts are also being reconsidered. Many retailers are putting quick, ready-to-eat foods closer to the front of the store to ensure that drivers don’t have to search for what they want. You can also see this dynamic playing out in the exterior of the store, where fuel retailers evaluate the positioning of the fuel islands to ensure truck drivers have ease of entry and exit. Truck stops know the importance too of selling DEF on the fuel island. Some even have technology at the fuel island to allow drivers to pre-order products and services inside so that they can be prepared while the driver is refueling.
Drivers often worry about the availability of parking spaces; how can technology improve the driver’s truck stop experience?
Truck drivers must stop to rest after every 11 hours of driving, a commitment that the federal government mandates. As providers of 90 percent of truck parking nationwide, our industry is committed to helping drivers get their required rest. To ensure that drivers can easily find available truck parking, NATSO and the NATSO Foundation in conjunction with the American Trucking Associations and the American Transportation Research Institute developed the mobile app, “Park My Truck.” This app really marked the first time that the industry put forth a national source for truck parking information and made it available to America’s truck drivers. Park My Truck was developed based on feedback from professional drivers and trucking companies who often describe truck parking availability as a critical need, and it is helping to ensure that truck drivers can easily find safe, legal parking to meet their rest requirements. Park My Truck is free to any member of the nation’s truck driving community. The only technology that a driver needs is a smartphone and internet access.
How can technology (Wi-Fi kiosks, shower reservation systems, etc.) redefine the term “convenience” in the truck stop industry and become even more accommodating for drivers thousands of miles from home?
Whatever the latest technology is, it really has to focus on accommodating drivers and making their entire experience easier, faster, better and simpler. These are without question the “tools” that drivers need to make the most efficient use of their time. Most of this technology — whether it helps them to find or reserve truck parking, pre-order food, schedule a pick-up of a personal delivery or involves the use of voice activation for an existing application — attempts to help the drivers get what they need to get back on the road.