Covid-19 limits truck stop services in west, but most remain open

EDMONTON, Alta. – As the trucking industry scrambles to meet demand during the Covid-19 crisis, the need for safe, equipped rest stops has never been more important to drivers.

Rest stops in Alberta were not only close to being shut down by the provincial government, but have also been vandalized by those looking for toiletry and sanitation supplies, which have been in high demand during the response to the coronavirus.

The Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) notified its members of the situation, saying toilet paper, soap, and hand sanitizer has been removed or damaged at several locations.

“These facilities are used by commercial truck drivers and are part of critical infrastructure that drivers depend on in order to continue to provide Canadians with essential supplies in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the AMTA said in a release. “The AMTA wants to reinforce the importance of these facilities and that they are critical to the supply chain. If rest stops continue to be vandalized, Alberta Transport will have to close them.”

As a result of the vandalisms, the province shut down 27 locations that were impacted.

“Drivers are working diligently to get supplies delivered right now and they need a safe place to stop and to access to food, water, and fuel,” said AMTA president Chris Nash. “Closure of rest stops further disrupts the already challenging times that the transportation industry is enduring.”

The AMTA said the absence of toilette paper, soap, and hand sanitizer does not warrant closing the rest stops altogether, and relayed this message to the provincial government, saying they are still essential as a safe place for drivers to pull over and rest.

The AMTA’s advocacy was successful, and as of this morning, the affected rest areas have been reopened and damages will be addressed as soon as possible.
Private truck stops have been hit hard by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Blackjack’s Roadhouse in Nisku, Alta., one of the largest trucks stops in all of Western Canada, has been forced to shut down completely.

“We were put in a position where we had to close our 650-seat restaurant, bar, gaming area, laundromat, showers, and kitchen services to do our part in helping prevent the spread of Covid-19,” said owner Clarence Shields.

Shields said he does wish Blackjack’s was able to remain open, as he feels the location provides a unique and essential service to drivers and the industry.

“But, based on government recommendations pertaining to the spread of coronavirus, we had to make a choice about looking after my team, who have small children at home, and all my customers in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” he said.

Even though closed for business, Blackjack’s is doing what it can to look after its customers.

Shields has opted to waive the $10 parking fee for all truck drivers for the time being, has brought in portable toilets, and has rooms and showers available at Blackjack’s sister location, Airways Country Inn, as well as long-term truck parking.

Blackjack’s weigh scale also remains open for those needing to adhere to spring road bans and weight limits.

Blackjack's Roadhouse
Blackjack’s Roadhouse in Nisku, Alta.

Pilot Flying J locations, on the other hand, have remained open to commercial drivers.

The chain has more than 780 travel centers across Canada and the U.S., and has kept its laundry, restrooms, and showers open to drivers.

As for food options at Flying J locations, self-serve food has been closed, as are all dining rooms. As of March 19, select restaurants in the Flying J network will close for overnight hours only, and only at locations where alternative food options are available during these hours.

All deli pre-packaged food is still available for drivers to purchase.

Driver lounges have been closed, and in some locations in the U.S., gaming rooms have been shut down.

The AMTA addressed the need for drivers to have better access to food with the closing and reduced services at several outlets, specifically with the closure of dining rooms and drive-thru services not being accommodating to commercial trucks.

“They are not allowing walk-ups to the drive-thru, so truck drivers are stuck without access to food and beverages,” said Nash. “We understand why this is happening, however, we need to ensure drivers have access to these necessities in order to keep the supply chain moving and encourage food chains and coffee providers to remain open and consider offering delivery service to parked truckers, in the spirit of keeping goods moving.”

Roadking Wok N’ Pub in the Roadking Travel Centre near Calgary is one eating location that has done just that and remained open for business during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Restaurant management said drivers can even call ahead to have meals made upon their arrival. And if they choose, drivers can have their food and drinks delivered to their trucks if they prefer to stay isolated. Drivers can call 403-919-4856 to place any order.

A Tim Hortons location in Rimby, Alta., is also offering parking lot delivery and drive-thru walk-up service for drivers.

So far in Manitoba, rest stops appear to all remain open.

Terry Shaw, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association, said his team has been calling each location, and “so far, so good.”

“We have also heard from citizens asking how they can help,” said Shaw. “While we haven’t been able to make any connections in that regard, the concern and intention is very much appreciated.

Jordan Ewart, policy analyst for the Saskatchewan Trucking Association, said the Ministry of Highways confirmed that rest areas remain open in the province.

And B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure confirmed yesterday that highway rest areas are open, and asked visitors not to take supplies, such as toilet paper, which has been occurring at some locations.

The Canadian Trucking Association (CTA) has also weighed in on the importance of keeping rest areas open for drivers.

“Not only do the rest areas need to remain open, we need to ensure that if this crisis is extended, food needs to be available for drivers at these areas along with sanitary and safe restroom facilities,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski. “Drivers all over the country are ready to respond to this crisis, keep the supply chain moving and ensure store shelves are stocked; but in order to do that, they need access to basic sanitation and be able to continue to manage fatigue as they respond to this emergency.

“These hard-working men and women deserve and need a place to safely park their vehicles to rest as well as get food. We need to help our nation’s drivers more than ever – truck drivers will play a key role in fighting Covid-19. Shutting down the very few safe places they can rest, shower, fuel up and eat is not something anyone wants and will eventually disrupt the delivery of essential goods Canadians and Americans desperately need right now.”

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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