WESTLAKE, Ohio — TravelCenters of America (TA) is seeing diesel volumes pick up as the trucking industry works to deliver goods to retailers and distribution centers that have been depleted by panic buying among consumers.
“Although it is too early to quantify the business and financial impact the COVID-19 crisis will have on TA, so far in March, we have seen elevated year-over-year diesel fuel sales volumes, indicating to us that the U.S. supply chain remains intact and functioning under these unprecedented circumstances,” said Jonathan Pertchik, managing director and CEO of TA. “We value our customers, employees and investors and are confident we have the right team in place to navigate TA through these challenging times.”
Pertchik said TA aims to keep open its travel centers, which include 260 locations in 44 states and Canada operating under the TA, Petro Stopping Centers and TA Express brands. The retailer, which ranks No. 27 on CSP’s 2020 list of the 40 largest c-store chains, is continually updating its operational status and measures on its website. Travel centers are typically included among businesses such as gas stations and grocery stores that are exempt from the various business restrictions announced over the past week, Pertchik said.
“It is important to note that our business is an exception to some of the general stay-in-residence and retail/restaurant closing requirements,” he said. “Federal, state and local governments are so far allowing our travel centers to remain open as ‘essential services’ to support commerce, the local backfilling of shelves with essentials and ensuring that goods reach those in need throughout the U.S.”
Changing Conditions for Truckers
The Wall Street Journal reported that truckers are seeing truckstops and travel centers in some states close their dining rooms and offer only takeout service in response to local health orders. Pennsylvania briefly closed its state-run rest stops, which had eliminated a swath of parking availability along major shipping corridors for truckers. The Pennsylvania Turnpike has since reopened all service plaza restrooms and limited foodservice. Truckstops and travel centers in the state have remained open.
TA has enacted some changes to its foodservice program, including discontinuing overnight food sales in Tampa, Fla., and closing its buffet and soup and salad bars in its Iron Skillet and Country Pride quick-service restaurants. It has suspended dine-in eating and discontinued refillable mugs, although carryout is available at all TA-branded QSRs. It has also closed its fitness centers and driver lounges and increased the cleaning frequency at its travel centers.
Trucking companies told the Journal that some of their drivers are being asked to stay in their trucks or adopt electronic documentation for pickups and deliveries, and receiving docks have imposed new restrictions in states that have seen a high number of COVID-19 cases.
The moves come as the demand grows for drivers and trucks to replenish supplies that have been depleted at grocery stores and distribution centers during the panic buying that has typified the coronavirus pandemic. On March 17, the average rate to hire a truck on the spot market—for last-minute transportation—had risen 6.1% since Feb. 29, according to the Journal, citing online freight marketplace DAT Solutions LLC.