Vending And Blind Trade Oppose Rest Area Commercialization Of Interstate Highways

Posted On: 6/20/2017

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TAGS: National Federation of the Blind, National Automatic Merchandising Association, vending, commercialization of interstate rest areas, blinder vendors, Randolph-Sheppard Act, National Association of Truck Stop Owners, Lisa Mullings, Mark Riccobono, Lea Dias

ALEXANDRIA, VA -- A coalition led by the National Federation of the Blind, National Automatic Merchandising Association, restaurants, fuel retailers, city governments and trucking firms urged key lawmakers to oppose the commercialization of interstate rest areas as Congress considers new infrastructure legislation.

The coalition's argument against the proposal to allow the sale of food, fuel and other commercial services at interstate rest areas is that it would drain local businesses of customers, communities of jobs and city governments of tax revenue by putting established businesses in direct competition with state governments. At the same time, it would give states an unfair competitive advantage by granting them direct access to highway motorists.

The coalition also argued that up-ending the long-established policy prohibiting commercial rest areas threatens the livelihood of the nation's blind merchants, who service many of the vending machines at rest areas, and would hinder the Department of Transportation's goal of expanding commercial truck parking capacity nationwide.

Under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, a federal law that supports entrepreneurial opportunities for blind people, blind vendors are given priority in bidding to manage vending locations at rest areas along federal interstates.

Congress privatized highway services in 1960, when it prohibited states from offering commercial services at rest areas along the Interstate Highway System so that private-sector entities would grow and provide services to the traveling public, National Association of Truck Stop Owners president and chief executive Lisa Mullings pointed out.

"If the government gets in the business of selling food and fuel or other commercial services, local communities will suffer as tax revenues shift to the state; hardworking business owners will lose their customer base; blind entrepreneurs will be out of work and truck drivers will have a harder time finding a safe place to rest," Mullings said. "Commercializing Interstate rest areas would create far more problems than it will solve."

In many rural communities located near interstates, gas stations, restaurants, convenience stores, truck stops and hotels are among the largest local taxpayers, contributing more than $22.5 billion to state and local coffers, Mullings estimated.

Commercialization of rest areas would also result in significant losses of sales for vending machines, which would be unable to compete with larger foodservices, the coalition contends. "There is already an unacceptably high unemployment rate of approximately 70% among blind Americans," said Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind. "Congress should not contribute to the problem by putting the blind entrepreneurs who service rest area vending machines out of work.

Lea Dias, president of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, added: "This economic disruption to small family businesses, including those owned by entrepreneurs who are blind, and to the communities that they live in, would likely shift economic activity from small businesses to large corporations. It would also shift tax revenue from cities and counties, without necessarily increasing net jobs, sales or taxes paid."

The coalition observed that Congress reaffirmed its commitment to helping "exit-based" businesses to support local communities as recently as 2012, when the Senate voted 86 to 12 to uphold the longstanding federal law prohibiting the sale of food, fuel and other convenience items from interstate rest areas.