Pilot Travel Centers is a jointly owned venture of Pilot Corporation and Marathon Petroleum Company
, each owning a 50% stake in the corporation. The corporation is headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee and had revenues of $11.8 billion in 2006. The corporation has an employment of 13,000. Pilot Travel Centers is the nations largest operator of travel centers. When Marathon joined with Pilot to form Pilot Travel Centers, they brought along their 94 Speedway/Superamerica fuel stops, a significant boost to Pilot's already impressive network of 140 travel centers.
Amenities at most Pilot Travel Centers include diesel fuel, gasoline, and other petroleum products. Showers, Wi-fi connections, fast food restaurants, convenience store, and other services designed for the trucker or traveler are available. Some larger centers also feature repair facilities where tires, oil changes, and other light maintainance chores can be addressed. The repair centers also feature road service for breakdowns which occur on the highway.
Pilot Travel Centers began its existence as a single, family-owned gas station when James Haslam II opened for business in Gate City, Virginia in 1958. In 1976, Pilot installed its first convenience store and set about converting its other locations to include convenience stores. Pilot opened its first travel center in 1981, and since then have continued to expand their travel center network. Pilot Travel Centers opened their first fast food franchise in 1988. By 2001, Pilot was operating 65 convenience stores and 140 Travel Centers in 37 states. 2001 also saw Pilot enter into an operating agreement with Marathon Petroleum Company, the new entity to operate as Pilot Travel Centers. Marathon is, in its own right, a major player in the field of petroleum refining and distribution. Marathon was ranked #5 in petroleum refining, with their capacity representing 6% of the nation's refining capability. In February, 2003, Pilot Travel Centers acquired Williams Travel Centers, doubling the size of the company. in 2006, Pilot became the 10th largest restaurant franchisee in the nation. The same year saw Pilot go international, opening their first Travel Center in Canada.
Pilot Travel Centers seem to be everywhere. They are survivors in a game where the big fish eat the little fish. Pilot, along with its partner Marathon Petroleum have absorbed other players in the truckstop field, most notably Williams Travel Centers. Williams burst on the scene, built many new, well appointed facilities which included sit down restaurants with real people cooking real food. I don't know it for a fact, but they seem to have been victims of an over-aggressive expansion model. They weren't in business but a few years until they were gobbled up by Pilot Travel Centers. Goodbye home cooking, hello more fast food.
Many of the Pilot Travel Centers offer the barest bit of big rig parking. I have been in Pilots where there was room for maybe 12 rigs. In other words, come in, buy fuel, spend money, but we don't have room for you to take your required break or just chill for a while.
Pilot is in the truckstop business. Every fuel retailer knows that truckers need 2 copies of the fuel receipt, one for their own (or their company's expense report), and one for the tax man. Pilot is boneheaded in providing only one copy unless asked. That is plain stupidity, wasting time and putting customers to extra stress which they do not need. Almost every fuel retailer has a system that prints out the required receipt on a 2 copy, 5.5" x 8.5" dimensioned form. Not Pilot, no way, no how. Their receipt is printed on a cash register tape sized strip, about 2 feet long, which gaurantees it will not neatly fit with all the other fuel receipts that are accumulated.
Many of the Travel Centers I've encountered are a nightmare of snarled traffic trying to enter or exit the facility. Those familiar with the Pilot at Troutville, Virginia (I-81, exit 150), Greenville, Virginia (I-81, exit 213), or Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (I-81, exit 77), known exactly of what I speak. These aren't the only bad spots, not by a far cry. It's hard to get in, it's hard to get what you need, and then it's hard to get back out on the highway again.
It amazes me how 2 travel center chains, namely Love's Travel Stops and Pilot, can be physically so similar yet be so far apart in convenience and attitude. They both offer basically the same products and services, but Love's Travel Stops seem to do it all with a far lower degree of hassle to the customer.
Most truckstops now feature card readers for fueling customers. These card readers are like credit card readers on the gas pump at your favorite market except these offer the added feature of entering additional required information via keypad. It's not uncommon to enter a Pilot, no easy task in itself, pull up to a pump and find the card reader out of commission. There is a phone available to call the fuel desk attendant. Instead of that attendant taking the info over the phone, you're given the opportunity to just trot your fuel card in, leave it with the attendant (who you don't know from Adam), trot back out, fuel your truck, then trot back in to finalize the transaction. You get to do all this because THEIR system is broken. Oh and by the way, it's 10 degrees out here and the wind is blowing about 40 MPH. Sorry, Scooter, it ain't your lucky day! There's another place right down the road that has a functional card reader, and their price on fuel beats yours! I think they'd just love having my business! I think I'll just fire up my diesel and boogy on down, what do ya say?
Oh yeah, lest I forget, Pilot's fuel prices are among the highest posted. What a sweet deal, high priced diesel with no added amenities to justify the cost other than their basic philosophy to rape the trucker as quick and as hard as they can.
I was once leased to a company who was all a'twitter because they had negotiated a 3 cent/gallon price break with Pilot for all their lease operators. There were about 350 lease operators, so that would be a few gallons of fuel, you might say. The company couldn't understand our lack of appreciation when we pointed out that Pilot was about 6 cents higher than the competition, so with their discount, we could still pay 3 cents/gallon more than with the competition.
A lot of truckers dislike Pilot, and I'm one of them (as if you didn't already know that). Pilot is sometimes a necessary evil, but an evil nontheless. Pilot has Trans-flo Express, a scanning technology useful in sending paperwork into the office, speeding up billing and payment for services rendered. Because Pilot is so ubiquitous, it is simply the logical answer to utilize their services. One simply grits ones teeth and does the dirty deed that needs doing.
Pilot is a big player in the truckstop business. They are living proof that you can turn a profit while giving the bare minimum in customer service. In my ideal world, Williams Travel Centers would have absorbed Pilot, burned the fast food restaurants, put in sit down restaurants with cute waitresses and free drink refills, and we'd all live happily ever after. There isn't a 'happily ever after' out here on the road, my friend, and you can take that one all the way to the bank.