NATSO wants to short-circuit electric charging at rest areas

CHarging stations and trucks

The fight over allowing food trucks to keep selling their fare at state-run rest stops is spilling over to another commercialization issue — allowing installation of electric vehicle (EV) chargers. 

NATSO, the trade group for travel plaza and truckstop operators, is asking House Democrats to remove an amendment in the highway reauthorization bill that would allow electric vehicle charging stations at interstate rest areas. 

Congress prohibited states from offering commercial services at rest areas along the interstate highway system built after 1960 so private businesses would grow and provide services to travelers.

The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is considering the overall bill on Wednesday. The amendment authored by Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., would allow electric vehicle charging stations at rest areas located on interstate rights-of-way. 

NATSO, the National League of Cities, National Association of Convenience Stores, National Restaurant Association, National Federation of the Blind, National Retail Federation, Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America, Asian American Hotel Owners Association and the National Tank Truck Carriers all oppose the amendment.

“NATSO supports policies to encourage investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure,” NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings said. “Many of our members have already made these investments, and others are actively exploring them.”

If states compete by offering EV charging, the private investment could short out, she said.

The alternative fuel corridor grant program in the highway bill would go a long way toward increasing EV charging infrastructure at retail fuel stations throughout the country, Mullings said. 

Thwarting investment?

“The last thing we should do is undermine that progress by allowing EV chargers on the interstate from an advantaged location,” Mullings said. “If this occurs, private businesses will be forced to reconsider investing in EV charging.”

The issue of charging stations at rest areas is the latest front in NATSO’s battle to keep rest areas from commercializing.

“When the state operates the commercial rest area, those tax revenues go to the state,” Mullings told FreightWaves in a recent interview. “The [travel plazas and truck stops] that are operating at the exit interchanges, those tax revenues stay in the local community.” 

NATSO said it supports the temporary suspension of the rules that allow food trucks to operate at rest areas to help truckers find food during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it doesn’t want them there permanently.

“A lot of these truck stops [would] go out of business because of expanded commercialization,” Mullings said.

NATSO earlier this year partnered with ChargePoint, the largest EV charging vendor in North America, to create a National Highway Charging Collaborative. 

The Collaborative will deploy charging at more than 4,000 travel plazas and fuel stops in the next decade to significantly increase access to charging as EV adoption accelerates.  

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