December 4, 2020

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Travel Finishes First

Travel centers: A driver’s home away from home

10 min read
Before the Fourth of July holiday, the last time Swift Transportation over-the-road truck driver Shawn...

Before the Fourth of July holiday, the last time Swift Transportation over-the-road truck driver Shawn Hope had been home was in May for his son’s 10th birthday. Being away from home for several weeks—or even months—at a time has been typical for Hope since he began his commercial truck driving career nearly three years ago. 

Often, long-haul truck drivers sacrifice weeks away from their families to make a living and serve the everyday needs of businesses and residents across the country. When they are able to stop their trucks and take a break, drivers look for amenities like safe and ample truck parking, clean showers and laundry services, a bite to eat, and, in general, a place where they feel safe and comfortable. On the road, those places of comfort for drivers are travel centers and truck stops.  

“I mostly look for an abundance of parking, but it depends on what I am there for,” Hope said of visiting a truck stop. “If I am just there for 30 minutes, I am looking for decent food to eat and whether they have showers and restrooms. Most of the places I stop at are the big ones—Love’s, Pilot Flying J, TA, and Petro. At Swift, those are the stops where we have our fuel apps.” 

Swift Transportation driver Shawn Hope is typically on the road and away from home for several weeks at a time.Photo: Theodora Pecoroni

Hope explained he will stop at other mom-and-pop truck stops when the major chains aren’t nearby, but he prefers the amenities at the bigger locations. He did point out, however, that some travel centers should update their washing machines and do a better job when it comes to parking lot upkeep, like cleaning overflowing trash bins and fixing potholes. But for the most part, he said, the newer truck stops are in good shape.  

“I really can’t complain,” Hope said. “They take care of the drivers pretty good as far as the major truck stops go. They have clean showers, clean bathrooms, and the parking lots are nice.”  

Jason Nordin, chief operator for Pilot Company, said the company is continuously listening to fleets and drivers across the country to ensure it offers the services and amenities that make the lives of professional drivers easier while on the road. 

Nationwide, Pilot has a network of more than 950 fueling locations and is a full-service stop that includes more than 74,000 truck parking spaces, 6,200 high-speed diesel fueling lanes, 5,700 diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) lanes, and 5,300 showers. Pilot offers truck maintenance services at 35 Pilot Flying J Truck Care Service Centers. The company also offers Prime Parking, which allows drivers to reserve a spot at 400 locations. 

Barry Richards, president of TravelCenters of America (TA), explained that at TA, drivers appreciate the facilities for their one-stop shopping amenities.  

“Drivers really like when they’re able to get everything in one stop, as it gives them more drive time,” Richards said. “We have many services and amenities that are attractive to professional drivers. The restrooms and showers are probably the most valued. We also have reserved parking spaces, so drivers are guaranteed a parking spot when they arrive.” 

TA facilities also offer driver lounges where drivers can relax and watch television, laundry facilities, fitness centers, convenience stores and an assortment of restaurants. Some TA sites even have barber shops and health clinics, Richards pointed out. 

Love’s Travel Stops is also known for its amenities for professional truck drivers. Caitlin Campbell, media relations specialist for Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, said Love’s provides 24-hour access to clean and safe places to purchase fuel, fresh coffee, restaurant offerings, healthy food, snacks, electronics, showers, laundry access, CAT scales and more. Love’s also has dog parks for drivers with furry friends. 

Efficiency, fuel and maintenance 

For fleets, efficiency is key. So, it is important that travel centers offer services to get drivers back on the road as quickly as possible.  

Pilot Flying J offers an app and in-store driver kiosks that provide a variety of conveniences, including touchless transactions for checkout, digital coupon offers, loyalty programs, and the ability to reserve showers, parking and mobile fuel. The receipt function also allows fleet owners and account managers to receive invoices and receipts from drivers, explained Nordin. The app aims to help drivers plan ahead by allowing them to check store amenities and the number of available parking spaces.  

Pilot has continuously worked to expand its network to provide more locations and fueling lanes for commercial truckers. The company offers a mobile fueling feature to help drivers speed up their fueling transaction process.  

“Last year, we launched our One9 Fuel Network, which provides drivers with an additional 215 fueling locations (and counting), in addition to our traditional Pilot and Flying J locations, to better serve fleets of all sizes,” Nordin said. “Our goal is to help drivers stay on-route with a variety of places to stop and fuel. In May, we launched our new Axle Fuel Card, giving fleets the credit they need to keep their drivers moving.”  

In terms of maintenance, Pilot has 35 Pilot Flying J Truck Care service centers staffed with certified technicians and offers standard truck services, lube services, as well as retail and national account sales.  

At TA, locations also provide large capacity diesel lanes with DEF at the pump and truck repair services (TA Truck Service). “If a driver has to go to a dealer, there is often a five-day or two-week wait to get a truck in and out,” Richards explained. “We’re sort of the emergency repair room. In addition to maintenance, we provide oil changes, tire services and DOT [Department of Transportation] inspections by ASE-certified technicians. And at our locations, someone can enjoy a meal while their truck is getting fixed.”  

TA also has a RoadSquad network, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for emergency roadside repairs should a driver break down on the highway.  

In addition, TA has its own branded payment cards, UltraONE Universal and UltraONE Select, that offer distinctive benefits to fleets. The UltraONE Universal card can be used at all TA, Petro and TA Express locations as well as any fueling location that accepts QuikQ payment products. The UltraONE Select card is accepted exclusively at TA, Petro and TA Express locations. 

Campbell said Love’s has more than 380 truck service centers with on-site and standalone Speedco and Love’s Truck Care locations. Furthermore, Love’s TirePass, an in-lane tire inflation and assessment service, is available on the inside diesel lane at Love’s Travel Stops across the country. 

“Getting your tires checked regularly prevents roadside emergencies later and increases fuel efficiency in addition to maximizing the life of your tires,” explained Campbell, noting Love’s also sells antifreeze, DEF, engine oil and window washing fluid.  

Love’s offers Freight Factoring with Love’s Financial, a service for drivers to monitor their cash flow and cover expenses like fuel, insurance, maintenance, and payroll to help manage their finances. Love’s Express Billing program provides drivers with competitive pricing and eliminates the hassle of using cash or personal credit cards for fueling needs, Campbell added. Love’s also combines cardless radio frequency identification technology, DEF, Fast-Fill compressed natural gas and TirePass in the same lanes that drivers use for diesel.  

Health and wellness

Having a variety of options when it comes to food is important to truck drivers. But because many long-haul drivers commonly struggle with ailments caused from obesity, such as diabetes and sleep apnea, many travel centers are offering healthier food options, and some have even implemented wellness programs. 

Nordin explained that Pilot has ensured it has healthier food options in its grab-and-go case and in the fresh food selections that are prepared daily. Pilot has also partnered with UrgentCareTravel to keep drivers well while they are on the road.

Located at select Pilot and Flying J locations, professional drivers can make primary care visits and receive services like flu and tetanus shots. The clinics also provide a place for drivers to get their DOT physicals, Nordin pointed out.  

At TA, locations have adopted a StayFit program to help keep drivers on track. 

“Eating healthy on the road can be a challenge which is why we have healthy snack options,” Richardson said. “Drivers can find healthier options, such as fresh fruit and veggies, cheese snacks, cereal bars, nuts, yogurt, and water in our travel stores. All of these options are marked with the StayFit logo on easy-to-spot shelf tags.”  

Healthier snack options are just a part of the StayFit program, Richardson pointed out. Most TA locations offer free mapped walking trails, bean bag toss games, horseshoe pits, and basketball courts. Fitness rooms are also available for professional drivers. 

Safety and parking

A common complaint among many commercial truck drivers is their inability to find adequate, safe truck parking. The problem is only intensified in major cities, where secure truck parking is particularly scarce.   

From his experience on the road, Hope said he would like to see bigger parking lots for more truck parking, as well as fewer reserved parking in major cities.   

“There are plenty of times I have come to a truck stop and the lot is packed full,” Hope said. “Drivers then have to park along freeway ramps or somewhere close by because they are out of their hours of service. Many drivers end up at truck stops because they think they could shut down and do their resets there, but they find there are no spaces for parking.” 

Hope explained that even reserved spaces fill up quickly, so drivers end up having to find somewhere else to park. That then becomes a problem for surrounding businesses because truckers are pulling into their parking lots. 

“Those businesses make policies that no trucks are allowed to park in their business parking area, which is understandable,” Hope said. “You see that a lot in the city areas, where there are ‘no trucks allowed’ signs almost everywhere nearby.”  

Hope said Swift is good about allowing drivers to pay ahead and reserve parking spots as needed; however, it’s not always guaranteed that there will be available spaces. 

“If you know at the end of the day that you will be shutting down at a particular truck stop, you can call ahead for most of these trucking parking lots and reserve a space hours ahead of time,” Hope said. “But I don’t always know where I am going to shut down. I’m pretty good about finding an open spot most of the time. It isn’t very often where I come across a parking lot where there isn’t at least a spot, but I’ve had to sit out and wait for someone to leave so I can pull in.” 

The Pilot Flying J network provides drivers with access to more than 74,000 truck parking spaces across North America. To help professional drivers plan ahead and reduce time spent searching for parking, Pilot offers Prime Parking, which allows drivers to reserve a spot at 400 locations, Nordin explained. 

“The majority of our parking spots are not part of our Prime Parking service, allowing drivers the flexibility to arrive at any of our locations without a reservation and to park in any open space,” Nordin added. “With the Pilot Flying J app, professional drivers can easily view the number of parking spaces at a location, the number of available Prime Parking spaces, and reserve a Prime Parking space.” 

Depending on the location, TA offers various parking solutions and provides Preferred Parking sites, which have gated entry, Richards explained.  

“A nominal purchase of goods, services, or fuel will earn a waiver of the gate exit fee,” Richards said. “Those lots are usually patrolled by security, as are many others. The drivers are protected from unwanted traffic and solicitors at these locations.”  

Richards added that every two hours, site staff walk TA lots counting open spaces, which are reported through TA’s TruckSmart App, as well as the National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO) Park My Truck App. NATSO has been representing travel plaza and truck stop owners and operators for more than 50 years. The Park My Truck App allows any parking provider—public or private—to report their parking availability for free. 

“Not only does this provide an accurate picture of available parking, but an additional set of eyes on the lot to make sure nothing untoward is occurring,” Richards noted. “We also have our Reserve-It! program, so someone is assured of a parking spot, and they can plan ahead. They can drive until the last minute and know that they have a spot waiting for them.”  

TA has also upgraded the lighting systems across its network with new, brighter LED lights to make truck drivers feel safer, Richards added.   

“We provide paid security services at locations that warrant extra measures, and all of our employees are trained to recognize and react to nefarious activity,” he said. “We are proud supporters of Truckers Against Trafficking and their various training programs. We also have sites that are designated/approved for highly hazardous loads.” 

At Love’s, Campbell explained that “safety is always at the forefront of our operations.” She said Love’s regularly constructs new locations to have as many truck parking spaces as possible so that drivers have a safe place to park when they’re on the road and need to stop. With the opening of new truck stops, she said Love’s adds thousands of parking spaces across the U.S. each year. 

Before Hope got his start in commercial trucking, he was a limo driver for 14 years. What he appreciates most about life on the road is being able to explore the U.S. For someone who is away from his wife and son for weeks at a time, he appreciates the comfort and familiarity of the truck stops he visits.  

“It’s kind of like the home away from home when I find a truck stop that I can go to,” Hope said. “It’s safety in numbers. It feels safer to me to be at a truck stop where other truck drivers are, in case something happens. There are drivers who are willing to help out and look out for you. It feels safer at a truck stop instead of being in some weird place alone.”   

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