IdleAir Making A Comeback
By Jason Scott, Sentinel Reporter The Sentinel – cumberlink.com | Posted: Friday, February 4, 2011 2:30 pm
A year after it ceased operations, IdleAir (no longer IdleAire) now has new wind in its sails and seems poised to return to the Carlisle area.
Once praised for its innovative electrification system that allows truck drivers to plug in their parked rigs and turn off their engines, the Tennessee-based company has new owners and a new approach to provide what many view as a much-needed service to reduce truck noise and air pollution.
“We want to be part of a solution to help the industry,” said Mike Fielden, president and chief operating officer for Convoy Solutions, LLC. “We want to rebuild the network and redeploy where we can.”
Since relaunching in August 2010, the company has opened 21 sites in nine states.
Two of those facilities are in Pennsylvania – in Breezewood and Myerstown – and many are in previous locations.
Fielden said Convoy Solutions hopes to have about 40 IdleAir sites up and running by the end of 2011.
Back to Carlisle?
Carlisle could certainly land one of those new facilities.
“There is a lot of opportunity in the Carlisle area with the distribution there,” he said. “Carlisle was a top 20 site. We know the demand is there.”
Under the old IdleAire, the Carlisle area had a 72-space operation at the Petro Stopping Center (owned by TravelCenters of America, or TA) on the Harrisburg Pike in Middlesex Township. That opened in the summer of 2006, but closed in January 2010 when the company failed to find a buyer following a bankruptcy filing.
At the time it closed, IdleAire employed 315 people nationwide and had 131 locations in 34 states.
Fielden said TA pulled the equipment out at the Middlesex truck stop.
“It doesn’t have to be at a truck stop,” he stated. “We need to identify a location. There is no reason it couldn’t be rebuilt this year.”
Convoy Solutions is targeting distribution areas, major crossing routes and even border crossing areas. Coming in and out of major metropolitan areas will also be the focus, officials said.
“We want to be where trucks are going to spend the night,” Fielden said.
Controlled growth, pricing
Fielden said the goal is to build back to about 100 locations over the next three-and-a-half years.
The company wants to stay focus on cost control and grow at a steady pace – not too quickly, as it did before, he noted. And IdleAir lots are going to be smaller than before and not take up prime parking, but rather occupy the edge and back part of the lots.
“We have simplified the business. We have one data center, not four. We have a much smaller staff,” Fielden said. “We’re a lean company. We know where people will use the service and where they won’t.”
Currently, IdleAir employs just north of 50 people.
IdleAir also offers lower prices than its predecessor.
Before it shut down in 2010, the company charged $2.89 per hour for silver members and $2.45 per hour for gold members.
It provided filtered heating and air conditioning, electrical outlets and a range of communications and entertainment options – including television and internet access – that allowed long-haul truck drivers to shut down their engines instead of idling for cab comfort during daily rest periods.
The same services are still available, but with a few tweaks like the addition of ESPN to the television service.
The basic service is now priced at $1.99 per hour. There is also a promotional price of $1.25 per hour in some areas.
There are other discounts available (visit idleaire.com for more information on pricing).
“We are going to try to maintain that,” Fielden said about pricing. “We want to drive volume into the system.”
Previously loaded funds for past customers will also be honored, officials said, even for drivers that may have tossed their cards.
‘Home away from home’
Convoy Solutions believes drivers will use the low-priced service as the national average for diesel fuel is currently about $3.43 per gallon.
The average idling truck burns one gallon of diesel per hour, not including the wear and tear on the engine, said Jeff Maurer, a New York-based consultant for the company.
“It really adds up,” he said. “This is a great product and great value for long-haul truckers. It’s a home away from home.”
In the future, Fielden said they plan to offer a menu approach to pricing for drivers who may only want electric or just heat or air conditioning.
“We will add services as we go along and listen to our customers,” he said.
The company also has plans to start using solar power for their ports.
“We would love to see IdleAir come back,” said Thomas Au, president of the Clean Air Board.
The system offers truck drivers an additional option to comply with the Diesel Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act, he added, noting that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has been installing similar systems at turnpike rest stops.
“CAB hopes the new operator can be successful in Carlisle,” Au said.
“Strong local support for reopening IdleAir locations is extremely helpful for accelerating the reopening of our sites and the resumption of our non-idling services,” said Maurer.
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