Commentary

Rest Stop Privatization Stirs Controversey

Privatizing rest stops along highways would seem like a no brainer, but intense lobbying keeps it from happening. The primary opponent appears to be National Association of Truck Stop Operators, who fear that upgraded rest stops with restaurants and clean bathrooms will erode their business. Reason Foundation’s privatization expert Len Gilroy has blogged about this issue and Ron Utt at the Heritage Foundation has written a nice policy study on its benefits.

The Washington Post has a interesting article exploring the political pitfalls and benefits of rest stop privatization. The article focuses on HMSHost, a US-based company that manages restaurants and shopping in 110 airports and 86 rest areas throughout the nation:

Indeed, HMSHost has been partnering with states on rest stop deals since the 1940s. As the operator of these sites, HMSHost secures franchise licensing agreements with brands such as Starbucks, paying a set fee. HMSHost employees then run the stores.

The renewed interest in these public-private partnerships stems from the current stress on transportation funds as well as municipal finances.

“This is one less expense that we have to manage,” said Michael Williams, a spokesman for the Delaware Department of Transportation. “We wanted to renovate the site once the lease was up, and we did so without having to spend a dime.”

A growing number of states, including Vermont, Louisiana and New Hampshire, have closed or announced plans to close rest areas to save money in the past two years. Last August, Virginia, to shed $9 million in annual expenses, shuttered 19 of its 42 rest stops, though all have since been reopened.

Importantly, rest stops are not really privatized. Rather, they are public-private partnership where land ownership remains with state governments and private companies lease the land to provide services to customers through what are called long-term concessions. The private company is responsible for managing the rest stops and negotiating leases for restaurants, shops, and other facilities at the stop. In Deleware’s case, the rest area and travel center will be on a 35 year lease.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.

Staley is the author of several books, most recently co-authoring Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry aid Staley and Moore "get it right" and world bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

He is also co-author, with Ted Balaker, of The Road More Traveled: Why The Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It (Rowman and Littlefield, September, 2006). Author Joel Kotkin said, "The Road More Traveled should be required reading not only for planners and their students, but anyone who loves cities and wants them to thrive as real places, not merely as museums, in the 21st Century." Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said, "Balaker and Staley clearly debunk the myth that there is nothing we can do about congestion."

Staley's previous book, Smarter Growth: Market-based Strategies for Land-use Planning in the 21st Century (Greenwood Press, 2001), was called the "most thorough challenge yet to regional land-use plans" by Planning magazine.

In addition to these books, he is the author of Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities (Transaction Publishers, 1992) and Planning Rules and Urban Economic Performance: The Case of Hong Kong (Chinese University Press, 1994).

His more than 100 professional articles, studies, and reports have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Investor's Business Daily, Journal of the American Planning Association, Planning magazine, Reason magazine, National Review and many others.

Staley's approach to urban development, transportation and public policy blends more than 20 years of experience as an economic development consultant, academic researcher, urban policy analyst, and community leader.

Staley is a former chair for his local planning board in his hometown of Bellbrook, Ohio. He is also a former member of its Board of Zoning Appeals and Property Review Commission, vice chair of his local park district's open space master plan committee, and chair of its Charter Review Commission.

Staley received his B.A. in Economics and Public Policy from Colby College, M.S. in Social and Applied Economics from Wright State University, and Ph.D. in Public Administration, with concentrations in urban planning and public finance from Ohio State University.