Truckstops Urged to Fight Tolling

NATSO fights to preserve toll-free interstate system

Mindy Long, Freelance Writer

Tom Heinz NATSO

Tom Heinz

WASHINGTON -- With discussions about the next highway bill well underway on Capitol Hill, highway-based business owners seeking to ensure that existing interstates remain toll free must engage their lawmakers, according to Tom Heinz, NATSO chairman and president of Heinz Inc.

Speaking at the NATSO Show 2014 recently held in Nashville, Tenn., Heinz, who operates Coffee Cup Fuel Stops, urged truckstop and travel plaza attendees to speak with their legislators and "join the conversation."

"Tolling remains a threat," said Heinz. "I know some of you feel toll roads … will not happen or impact your markets. No one's markets are void of the negative impact of tolling."

Past discussions over highway funding have opened the door for such proposals as tolling and rest area commercialization, both of which threaten businesses that serve interstate travelers. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) also recently expressed support for a vehicle miles tax as a means of generating trust fund revenues, as well a hike in the federal excise fuel tax, although he acknowledged House Republican votes are not there for higher taxes at the pump.

Using his own business as an example, Heinz illustrated how tolling in one state will have a ripple effect. When the state of Washington considered tolling, Heinz realized that it would ultimately affect vehicles traveling along Interstates 90 and 94, which run through Wyoming and South and North Dakota where he operates.

NATSO president and CEO Lisa Mullings told attendees there is growing support for a fuel tax increase to help fund infrastructure, something that hasn't happened since 1993.

"It isn't every day that business is clamoring for an increase in taxes, yet that is exactly what is happening now," Mullings said. "Trucking companies, manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, have asked Congress and the President to increase the federal fuel tax."

If Congress boosted the fuel tax so it had the same buying power today as it did in 1997, the average American would pay $4.66 more every month in gas taxes. "This is a solid investment when you consider that the average American wastes $68 each month sitting in traffic," Mullings said.

Hundreds of truckstop and travel plaza owners and operators joined industry suppliers for the event, which is the nation's only tradeshow dedicated to the truckstop industry. For three days, operators heard from industry experts, discovered new products and took part in peer-to-peer learning.

During the show, attendees also heard keynote addresses from Kat Cole, CEO of Cinnabon, and Bob Greco, group director of downstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute (API).

Speakers focused on the importance of frontline employees and how business owners can encourage their growth. "I challenge you to look within your truckstops and your businesses for employees who want more," Cole said. "You have a built-in awesome workforce."

NATSO offered educational sessions on several topics, including alternative fuels, shop repair, payment technology trends, health care reform and food and beverage trends.

Operators also were able to walk the tradeshow floor, which featured nearly 100 exhibitors. They offered show specials, featured new products and provided a variety of samples.

The show ended with an information sharing session for independent operators. Operators shared the best idea they implemented in 2013 and brainstormed solutions they plan to implement in 2014. Great ideas included cross-training employees to control labor costs, adding more healthy food options and expanding diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) offerings.

The NATSO Show 2015 will take place in Las Vegas, Feb. 15 to 18.