National Association of Blind Merchants
NABM Online Letter to Congress Commercialization
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  • Your U.S. Senators
  • Your U.S. Representative

HR 1990 - Commercialization of Interstate Rest Areas

I am writing to urge you to oppose any proposal to commercialize rest areas along federal interstate highways. Rest area commercialization would devastate family-owned businesses, including vending operations managed by blind entrepreneurs. Congressman Banks introduced HR 1990, which would allow commercialization, including restaurants and convenience stores, at the interstate areas. The President in his proposed budget expressed support for the idea of rest area commercialization. When Congress begins considering the much-anticipated “trillion dollar infrastructure package,” we expect “public private partnerships” to be a big part of that discussion. Please understand that while this term sounds good, in practice it leads to privatizing public assets, which will lead to tolling and rest area commercialization. For the sake of blind entrepreneurs throughout the country, please do all you can to ensure that this does not come to fruition. Under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, companies owned and operated by blind business owners are given priority in managing rest stop vending locations along federal interstate highways and in providing food service on federal property. Nationally, approximately 1,100 highway rest stop vending locations are subject to the Randolph-Sheppard priority. The majority of these are serviced directly by blind entrepreneurs and their employees. Rest area commercialization would devastate small businesses, including blind entrepreneurs who manage rest area vending machines under the priority afforded by the Randolph-Sheppard Act. If Congress liberalizes restrictions on rest area commercialization, these vending machines will be displaced by full-service restaurants. Even if vending machines remain, travelers will not purchase their water, soda, and snacks from vending machines at rest areas if they have the option to buy them along with sandwiches and meal items from larger competitors located at the rest area. These locations are the sole source of income for most of the blind entrepreneurs and they rely on the income to support their families and to avoid the necessity of being on public assistance. The unemployment rate of the adult blind population stands at 70%. We cannot afford to lose opportunities at a time when other opportunities are so scarce. When the interstate highway system was created, communities located along highway exits were deeply concerned about the economic impact on their businesses, property values, and local tax base if gas stations, restaurants, and other services were displaced by competitors located at rest areas. Rest area commercialization was prohibited to protect these communities, but is now being floated by the Administration as a way to pay for transportation infrastructure improvements. The reasons Congress elected to prohibit commercialization of the rest areas when the system was created are just as valid today as they were then. I understand the need for investments in transportation infrastructure, but we need to find ways to raise revenues in an efficient, effective manner that helps small businesses and blind entrepreneurs, their families and communities, rather than hurts them. Please consider the damaging consequences of rest stop commercialization when making any decisions about the future of highway rest areas. Sincerely, (First Name) (Last Name)

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