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Empowering Our Truckers

Keeping America’s Truckers Safe and Well-Fed During COVID-19

In an exclusive interview, the president and CEO of the national trade associate of America’s travel plaza and truck stop industry (NATSO), Lisa Mullings, explains how the industry has adapted to keep truck drivers fed and safe during the pandemic.

Lisa Mullings

President and CEO, NATSO

What steps has the truck stop and travel plaza industry taken to protect the health of customers and employees during the pandemic?

Travel centers and truck stops have taken a number of precautions to keep employees and guests safe. Like others, the industry has been following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization, including their recommendations on health hygiene and the use of masks. Team members are using and providing hand sanitizer to guests and frequently cleaning high-touch surfaces with recommended cleaning products, including fuel pump dispensers. Travel centers have also added labor hours to clean and disinfect; many have hired third-party sanitization companies. They have installed plexiglass sneeze guards at the payment counters and taped out lines that are six feet apart to ensure that customers adhere to social distancing guidelines. Companies are providing face masks to their employees and customers. They also have installed more self-service pay points that are tap and pay capable, in addition to providing curbside and takeout service.

Many retailers across the United States are adopting mask policies, and NATSO called on the truck stop and travel plaza industry to adopt mask policies. Tell our readers why this is important for the truck driving community.

The CDC recommended that Americans wear masks to protect themselves and others from the virus. NATSO’s Board of Directors adopted a resolution encouraging all truck stops and travel plazas to require customers to wear face coverings or masks. Wearing a mask is something simple that most people can do to help stop the spread of this virus and to help keep businesses open. Because the virus can be spread by those who do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected, it is important for everyone to wear masks. For professional drivers and other travelers traveling through multiple states or localities, the differing mask requirements has created confusion. We are urging members to follow the advice of medical experts, including the CDC. We have a patriotic duty to guard the health of our employees and customers and believe this is an easy way to get the U.S. economy moving during this unprecedented global pandemic. NATSO also urged associations representing the trucking industry, including the American Trucking Associations, to encourage all professional drivers to wear masks.

What changes did the industry make to ensure that truck drivers had access to food when sit-down restaurants were temporarily closed?

Truck stops never stopped offering food. NATSO members very quickly transitioned their food operations to curbside delivery and take-out dining options as state and local governments restricted sit-down dining. Others enhanced their grab-and-go meal options and convenience foods or extended the hours of their quick-serve restaurant operations. Locations across the United States made adjustments to ensure that drivers had access to food. They are certainly eager to get back to normal, but they also are prepared to maintain all of these food options for drivers if they were required to temporarily close sit-down dining again. Our members have kept these modifications in place. Thousands of truck stops house franchise restaurants have adapted their offerings and service to accommodate drivers. Chester’s Chicken, for example, offered curbside pickup, and Wendy’s offered a new walk-up curbside ordering procedure to accommodate drivers in commercial vehicles. Wendy’s also added a pop-up window to their app to communicate this information to drivers. NATSO partnered with the International Franchise Association (IFA) to share information with drivers about available food options. We made key changes in a very short time to ensure that drivers have access to food. And none of these new services and options are going away. As dine-in restaurants in certain areas re-open, those restaurants still must keep fewer tables in the dining area for social distancing. Those tables turn over less quickly now because they have to be deep cleaned between each use. So, our members are keeping all of the other services in place to ensure that they can provide food to customers.

Do you anticipate that there will be lasting or permanent changes to truck stop and travel plaza operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes. The reality in business is that you can’t go backwards when it comes to customer service or product offerings. During this pandemic, the industry has implemented changes that in many ways has made the shopping experience easier, faster and better. Customers will continue to expect the highest level of cleanliness as well as enhanced speed of service.

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