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What is the solution to trucking’s stubborn parking problem?

(Photo: CDL 101)

Finding available and safe parking is not a new problem. It has been a well-documented problem for over a decade. Rather than slowly improving with the increased media coverage and persistent criticism, the problem has only intensified. Many states have closed down rest areas as part of cost cutting strategies, and add to that this year’s changes to hours of service (HOS) rules, and the well-covered 2018 capacity crunch.

With the ELD mandate now in full swing, the industry is experiencing many issues that have become magnified because of the inflexibility of the new rulings. Two of the biggest issues the industry is facing are excessive dock times at both shippers and receivers, and parking shortages.

More trucks on the road, more requirements to stop and rest, and fewer locations for trucks to stop. What could go wrong?

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) figures say there are about 300,000 parking spaces. While it’s hard to assess just how many Over-the-Road (OTR) drivers are on the road and looking for parking at any given time on any given day/night, it’s easy to see evidence of parking overflows and to listen to the drivers themselves.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the trucking industry’s not-for-profit research organization, recently released the results of its Truck Parking Diary research, where commercial drivers provided detailed documentation of their challenges in looking for safe, available truck parking. Participating drivers recorded their parking experiences and issues over 14 days of driving, representing over 4,700 unique documented parking stops.

ATRI’s diary research also documented the amount of lost revenue time that drivers experience by parking earlier than they otherwise needed to, just to find parking. With an average of 56 minutes of revenue drive time sacrificed by drivers per day, the parking shortage effectively reduces an individual driver’s productivity by 9,300 revenue-earning miles a year, which equates to lost wages of $4,600 annually. The ATRI study also found that between the hours of 4 pm and 11:59 pm — when many drivers are ready to park for the evening — 63% of drivers are taking 15 minutes or more to look for parking.

As truckers struggle to find parking, many state and law enforcement officials have noticed an increase in unauthorized truck parking along major transit corridors and in dense metropolitan areas, the ATRI study found.

So what can truckers do? Typically you hear to use available resources and always plan for the unexpected. What if that’s still not enough?

Destination dispatchers should be able to help with suggestions for safe, local places to park. A fleet may be a preferred customer at a truck stop chain; drivers should be notified of possible stops along the way. Also recently, some major chains now offer parking reservations for preferred customers in addition to savings on fuel and food. Travel Centers of America (TA) offers an online reservation service, and Pilot Flying J’s Prime Parking program allows drivers to reserve spots and pay at the location or through the myPilot app.

Spurring new parking capacity is what is truly needed, and there is some evidence of substantive attempts to move the needle. One piece of good news happening from Federal Funds is an initiative called Jason’s Law. The law is named after Jason Rivenburg, a truck driver who was robbed and murdered in 2009 after pulling off the road to rest at an abandoned South Carolina gas station. The law has brought national attention to the parking problem and the need for better places to park, not to mention safety.

Also, as FreightWaves has previously reported, there is an eight-state initiative that begins with Iowa’s plans to make parking easier along Interstate 80 through technology. The Iowa system will be available as a smart-phone app and to companies who provide in-cab information systems, as well as truck dispatchers. Under a $25 million federal TIGER grant that Iowa along with Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin secured under a division of AASHTO, the Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials, the state will use its portion to install both radar sensors and in-ground “puck” sensors to help identify available truck parking spots at 21 public IDOT rest areas and 21 private locations along heavily-traveled Interstate 80.

Each participating state is creating a plan of action that specifically addresses its own needs and also works with other states. Iowa is the first state to announce its plan to create an electronic system. In coordination with the other seven states, the parking information management system will eventually interconnect into a regional system. The new system will be developed and tested over the next year and is expected to be up and running by January of 2019.

Also, MAP-21 is requiring research from the FWHA to produce a “comparative assessment of truck parking facilities in each state.” The agency’s 2014 survey of truck drivers sought insights into state-to-state variances in truck parking, ranking states by available parking spaces per 100,000 miles of annual truck vehicle miles.

The FHWA’s planned survey of truck stops with state officials seeks more information on truck parking situations state-by-state. The agency says it plans to ask respondents about the number of spaces, demand for parking in their state, truck parking information systems, truck parking plans, as well as any impediments to providing adequate truck parking capacity.

The agency is accepting public comment on its planned survey through May 23, inviting industry stakeholders to provide input on what questions or information should be collected in its survey of truck stops and DOT officials. 

This stubborn issue in the industry is also one that with improvements would potentially quietly add to driver retention, as it is just one issue that currently adds to deep frustrations.

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  1. sautarts

    One thing that gets me is you have the no parking areas on the side of the road or on/off ramp, but a car can park for 12 hours and doesn’t and will not get bothered but if it’s a truck the cops are all over you. Double standard that is unacceptable. I drive north east regional and there is an enormous parking problem getting into or out of NYC. There are only 4 truck stops in NJ on I78 and they are all small along with that joke of a parking area just east of exit 7 in NJ. I grew up 5 miles from that intersection and I have seen many changes in the truck stops. Unfortunately 3 of them got smaller. If you go north of NYC there is only really 1 truck stop and they all fill up around 4-5 pm. there is so much traffic and backup coming thru I80 in CT and NY and down 287 and out 78 in NJ the I always see 10-15 trucks parked on the shoulder of 78 because they ran out of time. Every time I come thru there I wind up on PC because that is the only thing I can do because the company I work for requires you to park at a safe haven. The shoulder or off ramp is unacceptable and they will call you out on it. Some receiving companies will let you park all night but most don’t and some will let you come in a few hours early but almost everyone requires you to leave the property after you have been unloaded. some of these unloaders or I should say the receivers checking in the loads are the problems when getting unloaded. I have spent on average 5 hours in the door at this 1 delivery with 1 time 7 hours in the door then you are required to leave, WTF?? Now I have to PC out of there and drive 35 of my 40 mile PC allowance to get to the nearest rest stop and hope I have a place to park. Its just all BS.

  2. Ken Burgess

    More truck stops are definitely needed. But I believe the " Not in my back yard" principal applies here too. Lets face it… some truck drivers are pigs and don’t care about their surroundings leaving trash and other things all over the place. Truck drivers need o have more respect for themselves and for the places we have to park. That will also help.

  3. Junkyard

    Well I thought reserve parking might be a good tbing at TA/Petro but TA Petro I have noticed recently in Lancaster,Ohio that 80% of their spaces are pay to park or reserve parking. Why you see mork truck drivers on on and off ramps is this.
    We cannot afford to pay $15 per night to park. Then Places like TA and Petro as well as Denny’s in the Flying J gouge drivers with their high food prices. These companies really no longer appreciate the drivers comming in and buying their fuel or eating in their restaurants. We dont need fast food we need a nice sit down restaurant where we can eat and relax outside of the truck. Even some of the TA and Petro servers wonder why we dont tip anymore?? Because you seemingly think a tip is an automatic. I you cant actually show us some compassion for what we do and see if we need more coffee or tea. A desert maybe a little smile then why bother tipping you. TA we truckers made you great. We can also throw you under the bus!!

  4. Tracy Hall

    One thing is the reserve parking is not tax deductible, another thing is, there are more reserve parking spots then there are free spots at the pilots, flying J’s Ta’s and mostly some Petro the one in North Little Rock, AR, over 75% of the parking lot is reserved, the TA in Jeffersonville, OH is the same, a lot of times I can make it to the shipper or receivers a night and they have a lot of open spots to park bout they won’t allow you to especially the ones with fences around them and gates, and have roving security companies to chase you off, but don’t have no ideal where you can park, some of them have parking but if you never delivered or picked up from them before you don’t know ! And the first words out of there mouth is your late or your to early, because traffic congestion in and around major cities.

  5. Scott Akin

    The simplest answer is usually the best answer. Get rid of ELD’s, go back to paper and most of the problem will solve itself. Less expensive, more common sense, less frustration and better morale across the board.

  6. Curtis

    Ok. I have been out there and seen what you guys are working with now. Yes I am a local driver here in the Dallas fort worth area and I still see it here. Here in weatherford texas area along inter 20 there are 5 large truck stops here. So I am asking not for bad remarks but what do you the driver, operator, think would be the GOOD solution.
    Ok maby like the other guy said about the field. Or we get some ideas on the table and tell the big guys in Washington or we are going to be doing exactly what they want us to do
    How about this. We get the wealthy folks to help with the little man and put up places called sleep/stop spots. The other would be from you guys out there running for America to tell me were the best places for them to go. Like along major interstates some were around metropolitan areas. Theses places need atleast 50 to 75 acres. Find me these places. Thanks for what you guys do.

  7. Tomad

    There is a simple solution for parking. Let farmers build parking lots next to the highways don’t tax them for 10 years, let them charge 10$ a spot and pass that charge to the consumer add the cost to the load and that’s it. In 10 years will be more parking lots then needed. Competition will kick in – will be showers and the restaurants in time.

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