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

  (Photo: CDL 101)

(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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