WASHINGTON -- The National Federation of the Blind and the National Restaurant Association this week urged the U.S. Congress to reject legislation that would allow the commercialization of highway rest stops.
Currently, the only commercial activities permitted at rest stops are vending machines operations by blind entrepreneurs under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Commercializing rest stops would also introduce new competition to restaurants and convenience stores that operate at highway exits and put them at a competitive disadvantage, according to NRA.
The legislation, Amendment 1742, is part of a transportation bill being considered in both houses of Congress. Introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Congressman Steve LaTourette (R-OH), it seeks to overturn the law prohibiting the sale of food, fuel and convenience items at interstate rest areas and instead allow state transportation departments to permit commercial activities in rest areas along the highway. In 1960, Congress prohibited states from offering commercial services at rest areas along the interstate highway system specifically so that private sector entities would grow and provide services to the motoring public.
"This legislation would threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of blind entrepreneurs in the United States who depend on revenue from rest-stop vending machines," said Marc Maurer, president of the NFB. "With an unemployment rate among blind Americans that exceeds 70%, such a move is deeply irresponsible, since these entrepreneurs will lose their businesses and be forced to rely on public assistance. We urge Congress to reject this ill-considered and reckless proposal."
Brendan Flanagan, a spokesperson for the NRA, said this proposed legislation threatens private businesses of all sizes and their employees who rely on drivers exiting the highway in order to purchase food and conveniences. "It is an attempt to take money away from these businesses to fill state coffers. It is anticompetitive and will kill jobs," he said.
The legislation is also opposed by the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), and the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO), among other trade groups.