A truck stop, also known as a transport cafe in the United Kingdom and as a travel center by major chains in the United States, is a commercial facility which provides refuelling, rest (parking), and often ready-made food and other services to motorists and truck drivers. Truck stops are usually located on or near a busy road.
Smaller truck stops might consist of only a parking area, a fueling station, and perhaps a diner restaurant. Larger truck stops might have convenience stores of various sizes, showers, a small video arcade, and a TV/movie theater (usually just a projector with an attached DVD player). The largest truck stops, like Iowa 80 (the largest in the world), might have several independent businesses operating under one roof, catering to a wide range of travelers' needs, and might have several major and minor fast-food chains operating a small food court. Larger truck stops also tend to have full-service maintenance facilities for heavy trucks, as well as vehicle wash services that can handle anything from passenger vehicles to large trucks. Some truck stops operate motels or have them adjacent. Most truck stops now offer separate fueling areas, often with dedicated entrances, for standard-sized passenger vehicles. The truck refueling area almost always offers dual pumps, one on each side, so large trucks can fill both tanks at once. (The second pump is referred to as the "slave pump" or "satellite pump.")
The fuel islands at many truck stops can get very crowded. Most trucking companies have accounts with one or two truck stop chains and, after negotiating a specific price for diesel, require their drivers to fuel exclusively at supported locations. Truck stops near a large city, or on the east or west coasts, suffer from the most congestion at their fuel islands.
The retail stores in large truck stops offer a large selection of 12-volt DC products, such as coffee makers, combo television units, toaster ovens, and frying pans primarily targeted towards truck drivers, who often spend extended periods of time on the road. Such shops generally offer a wide selection of maps, road atlases, truck stop and freeway exit guides, truck accessories (such as CB radio equipment and hazmat placards), plus entertainment media such as movies, video games, music, and audiobooks. Increasingly, as interstate truck drivers have become a large market for satellite radio, these retail stores also sell various satellite radio receivers for both XM and Sirius as well as subscriptions to those services. Kiosks run by cellular phone providers are also common.
Most long-haul tractors have sleeping berths, and many truck drivers keep their diesel engines running for heating or cooling for the sake of comfort. Because idling diesel engines make considerable noise (and are a source of pollution) they are often banned from such use near residential areas. Truck stops (along with public rest stops) are the main places where truck drivers may rest peacefully, as required by regulations. Modern innovations, such as truck heaters and auxiliary power units, are becoming more common, and some truck stops now provide power, air conditioning, and communications through systems such as IdleAir. Many truck stops have load board monitors for truck drivers to find real time information on loads, jobs, weather and news. Most chain truck stops also have WLAN Internet access in their parking areas. Idle reduction -- reducing the amount of fuel consumed by truck fleets during idling -- is an ongoing economical and environmental effort.
The truck stop originated in the United States in the 1940s as a reliable source of diesel fuel not commonly available at filling stations. This, coupled with the growth of the Interstate Highway System, led to the creation of the professional haulage and truck stop industries. They generally consist of, at the very least, a diesel grade fueling station with bays wide and tall enough for modern tractor/trailer rigs, plus a large enough parking area to accommodate from five to over a hundred trucks and other heavy vehicles. Truck stops should not be confused with rest areas or motorway service areas which cater mostly to cars and are often run by or leased from a government or tollway corporation.
In the United States in the late 1990s, Truckstops of America (T/A) changed its name to TravelCenters of America to reflect this marketing strategy. There is no exact distinction between "truck stop" and the newer term "travel center", but some differences are size, proximity to interstate highways and major roads, the number of services, accessibility to automotive and RV travelers, and a certain extra emphasis on facility appearance. Many truck stops chains such as Flying J and T/A also serve the recreational vehicle market. All the national chains have established customer loyalty programs to promote repeated patronage.
In Louisiana, truck stops that meet certain criteria are allowed to have on-site casinos that can operate up to fifty (50) video draw poker gaming devices. These truck stops are regulated by the Louisiana Gaming Enforcement Division and must maintain certain amenities to be eligible to keep the lucrative gaming devices operating. Some of the amenities required are: having a certain number of acres of land, having a certain number of 18-wheeler parking spaces, having an on-site restaurant, and having trucker's supplies, showers, telephones, television lounge, scales, laundry services, fuel.
Truck stops were often depicted in films and novels as being somewhat seedy places, frequented by aggressive bikers, petty criminals, and prostitutes (e.g. the "lot lizards" in the JT LeRoy novel Sarah). This might be an outdated stereotype, as most modern truck stops are generally clean and safe, becoming a "home away from home" for many truck drivers. However, most truck stops reflect the social environment of their local area; consequently, one occasionally finds seedy truck stops in seedy areas. According to John McPhee's book Uncommon Carriers, truck stops in rural areas are typically very safe and wholesome. However, as the distance to major cities decrease the incidence of prostitution, drug peddling etc. increases dramatically. The Vince Lombardi service area on the New Jersey Turnpike near New York City has the most rampant prostitution.
In Australia, most truck stops - usually known as roadhouses, as they provide services to cars as well as trucks - are owned by, or are franchises of, oil companies such as Castrol and BP, but can include other franchises like McDonald's.
In the UK the term "truck stop" is not in common use and the equivalent stops are sometimes called transport cafes. There are relatively few areas on motorways just for trucks to stop at. Most designated rest areas are named service stations and are used by every sort of motor vehicle.
On A roads (longer routes with lower speed limits, which generally avoid motorways), a truck stop may have no refuelling facilities but simply offer a place for tired drivers to rest and get food and drink. They may not be signposted well, if at all.
In Germany and some parts of Austria there were newer official developments to the existing highway service station. The often state owned service stations at the highway were insufficient to deal with the growing number of lorries and the necessary stops for lorry drivers to rest. Since 2001, the traffic regulations of Germany Straenverkehrsordnung include a road sign, Autohof, literally car yard or automobile court.
An Autohof is run by a private company, but the government provides the road signs at the highway, indicating an Autohof, if the facility:
The economics of truck stops have driven most of the small, post-war operations out of business and they have been replaced with large corporate chains or franchises. Truck drivers are a captive market, because the trucks' size and local regulations place severe restrictions on where a truck driver can park. The initial investment in land, permits, equipment and maintenance requirements are large and growing: accordingly, some large truck stop chains have begun to cater to a wider range of the traveling public by combining trucks stops and traditional gas stations.
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