British Columbia

Shuttered truck stops, restrooms make life on the road challenging for long-haul drivers

Work is underway to ensure the people who drive essential supplies across the province are being cared for — which includes access to food and clean bathrooms, even as restaurants and pit stops close their doors.

As traditional pit stops close, work is being done to make sure drivers have access to food, restrooms

Police forces allow a food truck through a closed highway 175, Sunday, March 29, 2020 north of Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Different organizations, restaurants, city officials and government staff across B.C. are working to ensure long-haul drivers have access to food and clean bathrooms as many of their traditional pit-stops shutter due to the coronavirus.

Dave Earle, president and CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association, says truck drivers have an essential service designation, which means many truckers are putting in long hours to make sure essential supplies like groceries and medical supplies are getting where they need to be.

"It's been a tough journey over the past week ... [Some] companies are absolutely all hands on deck trying to get what's in distribution centres out to where it needs to be," Earle said. "[But] like every other industry, we do have people who are self-isolating."

An additional strain, he says, is the fact that many of the traditional pit stops along trucking routes have shuttered, and at other locations, in order to increase physical distancing, truckers were being asked to stay in their vehicles and not use facilities at a delivery site, for example. 

Earle says so far, they've been working closely with restaurants along the routes. This can mean allowing drivers to order online through an app, or working with restaurants to keep their restrooms open for truck drivers. 

"Over the weekend, I saw [one location of] McDonald's post a sign saying the restaurant is closed except for truck drivers," he said. 

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Earle said the association is also working with the Ministry of Transportation to get washroom facilities up and running at weigh and scale stations. These would be more substantial than a portable bathroom, with the goal of having hot and cold water and cleaning staff on hand to make sure the facilities are maintained.

The town of Sidney on Vancouver Island took matters into its own hands, setting up what it calls a "critical supply chain rest stop" in an employee parking lot in its downtown core close to the highway, with an area to rest and portable washrooms.  

The nearly one-hectare site can hold about 10 to 12 freight trucks and is located close to amenities, including a 24-hour TIm Hortons which is working with the municipality to keep their washrooms open for truck drivers.  

"This is a small gesture we can undertake and provide,"  said Randy Humble, the director of Sidney's Emergency Operations Centre.

Earle says the pandemic has brought to light how our current economy and society depends on trucking.

"There is a consideration to realize and understand .. how important it really is."

The Ministry of Transportation said it's exploring options for additional washroom facilities for commercial drivers throughout the province.

In a statement, it also said keeping public rest areas clean and well supplied is the responsibility of its maintenance contractors, who are monitoring rest areas daily to ensure the facilities are clean, sanitary and well-stocked.

Listen to the full interview with Dave Earle of the British Columbia Trucking Association:

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With files from All Points West and Daybreak North