European service areas and the impact of the second wave of COVID-19 on the transport sector

The second wave of COVID-19 has already started in Europe. Following the pandemic’s trends, restrictions and containment measures are being applied in most countries on the continent in an attempt to slow down the advance of the virus. Although the situation now is different from the first lockdown, it reminds us of what happened earlier this year and the severe impact of the pandemic on the transport and logistics sector.

If you would like to learn how the first phase of COVID-19 affected the transport sector, you can find our blog article on the impact of the first wave on the transport sector here.

With this in mind, professional carriers are wondering if they will again find it hard to do their jobs. This was the case a few months ago, as carriers personally told us about the difficulties they faced. They were confronted with closed service areas, with no access to minimum catering and shower facilities.

Are uniform regulations for the EU transport sector in place now?

Currently, there are no uniform regulations for the transport sector, with different measures in each country. This creates uncertainty for drivers, especially those involved in long-distance freight transport who spend long days and nights on the road. As some of the restrictions started to be implemented in the various countries, hundreds of roadside businesses, both inside and outside service areas, have shut down. There is a fear that the measures to restrict mobility will leave transport professionals standing in the cold, as already happened during the first wave of the crisis.

Associations such as the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) have taken initiatives to prevent such situations from recurring. They have sent an open letter to the EU member states asking them to keep restaurants, cafeterias, and sanitary facilities open in the continent's service areas.

How are motorway service stations affected in the large European countries?

In France, one of the key countries in intercontinental transport given its geographical situation, a general lockdown is in force. After meeting with specific trade unions and employers' organisations, the General Directorate of Infrastructure, Transport and Sea and the Social Counsellor of the Ministry of Transport have decreed that service stations in France must remain open, including toilet facilities. Similarly, the APRR motorway network is committed to providing hot meals at least overnight for transport professionals.

In Germany, where a nearly total lockdown has also been decreed, the situation is quite similar for transport professionals. Basic toilet facilities will remain open, but catering will not. The only authorised way for carriers to get food will be takeaway, which will continue to operate at most restaurants along the motorways.

In countries like Spain, where the regional governments determine and apply restrictive measures, there is a very different situation. For instance, the Municipality of Madrid decided that all restaurants will remain open but must respect capacity limitations. The situation is different in other regions such as Navarre and Catalonia, where only takeaway is allowed. An example in the Catalonian region is the OnTurtle station in La Jonquera, where essential services for transport operators are still available, such as toilets, showers (from 8 am to 10 pm), laundry (24 hours) and the supermarket (open from 8 am to 10 pm). Its truck parking area is still open, with access 24/7. By contrast, the restaurant offers takeaway from 12 noon to 9 pm, until it can resume normal operation.

The outlook for transport professionals and motorway service station availability

To sum up, transport professionals faced hard times finding service areas to cover their basic needs. Some countries in Europe have fortunately confirmed that this time the situation will be better, and carriers will be able to cover their basic needs. At first, it might seem stressful to see that countries are closing again, and we are going back to the first months of the year. The positive side is that we now have more experience, which should allow us to make the second wave less stressful and shorter than the first one.