How real is the parking problem?

 Trucks are parked at a rest stop along I-5 in California. Many spots for truckers to park do not include facilities, fuel locations or other amenities that make a 10-hour stay comfortable. ( Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Downtown Gal )

Trucks are parked at a rest stop along I-5 in California. Many spots for truckers to park do not include facilities, fuel locations or other amenities that make a 10-hour stay comfortable. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Downtown Gal)

Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s gotten worse since the ELD mandate, but experts insist the problem isn’t available spots, it’s the location and identification of those spots

Social media has been abuzz with pictures of tractor-trailers parked on the sides of the road ever since the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate when into effect. By some accounts, the mandate has exacerbated the problem of truck parking, but most experts don’t believe the problem has gotten any worse.

That’s not to say there isn’t a problem, because there is, but it may not be a shortage of spaces, but rather of the location of those spaces.

“On a nationwide basis, even on a statewide basis, there are more spaces available than demand,” explains Darrin Roth, vice president of highway policy at the American Trucking Associations (ATA). He tells FreightWaves, though, that while there are available spaces, some are located in remote areas. “Three-quarters of drivers report trouble finding spaces on a regular basis or at least once or twice a week.”

ATA is working with other organizations, including the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) and the U.S. Department of Transportation to find solutions.

“We are in the process of putting together recommendations, a lot of which are technology-oriented,” Roth says. “It revolves around how do you develop available space, such as using brownfields…or using weigh stations or commuter lots that are not being used at night.”

Much of the work has centered around where the demand is. “I think individual jurisdictions will have to play a role in that,” he adds. “Obviously, anywhere you have trucks parked on off-ramps is a problem.”

In last year’s survey of the industry’s most pressing issues, the shortage of available truck parking ranked fourth, according to ATRI.

In Iowa, the state is taking a technological approach to locating available parking. 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.

“Sometimes truck drivers are just unaware of where spots are and how far they have to drive to get to them,” Phil Mescher, project manager for the Truck Parking Information Management System for Iowa Department of Transportation tells FreightWaves. “We wanted to approach it from an intelligent transportation system approach. It’s about data and transmitting that data to truck drivers.”

The TIGER grant came about after the passage of Jason’s Law, which designated funding to help states develop and identify available truck parking. Named after Jason Rivenburg, a truck driver who was robbed and killed one night after arriving at a drop-off location too early and being forced to find a spot to park, the law has been widely praised and now states are beginning to see the benefits from it.

Mescher says Iowa’s contractor will began installing the sensors this month and should be finished by the fall. The system, along with the other state systems that will be tied together through a single interface, will go live on Jan. 4, 2019.

“It’s not unthinkable that if this is successful, it could be expanded to other interstates,” Mescher notes. Some states will add road signage to identify locations with available spots, although Iowa will not. Mescher says the data will be fed into Iowa’s 511 system in addition to being made available through the 8-state interface. It will also be provided to third-parties such as app developers and can be fed directly into some truck telematics systems.

Using the sensors, the system will identify how many spots are available at each location. Mescher stresses that Iowa is simply providing the data and a truck driver who sees a spot available at a location 10 miles away may find that spot unavailable upon arrival. There is no reservation system attached to the pilot project, Mescher says, although app developers or private travel stop locations may offer those.

One third party system, TruckPark, launched in Chicago last year with plans to allow drivers to reserve spots in private lots for a fee. Here's how the system works: A driver in need in parking goes onto and enters their zip code. A map (and detailed list) shows up listing locations that have available parking. The driver enters their credit card information (or logs in if they are already on file) and reserves a space. Once the driver arrives at the lot, they confirm the space with the attendant and are allowed to park their truck.

“Reserving a spot for truck drivers is huge for them,” Anthony Petitte, founder and CEO, told FreightWaves. “An app will tell them a location is 40% filled, but by the time they get there, it’s completely filled. With the reservation, they are guaranteed to have a spot.”

TruckerPath takes another approach, one that involves the “crowd.” The app allows TruckerPath’s 600,000-plus driver community to enter in locations that have spaces available, similar to the way Waze allows drivers to report highway incidents. There is even an option at some locations to reserve a space.

In addition, the company utilizes its community and data points to offer a “parking prediction” feature that will identify times when there is typically spots available at over 8,000 locations.  

Pilot Flying J and Travel Centers of America (TA) both offer reservation systems through online reservation systems, although the number of spots available at limited, ensuring there remains plenty of on-demand parking spaces.

Tyler Tanaka, head of digital innovation at Pilot Flying J, says the company’s Prime Parking, which typically costs between $12 and $15 to reserve a spot, covers about 5% of its total available parking spaces, which number around 70,000 nationally. In some locations, that percentage is a little higher, based on demand. Prime spots can be reserved and paid for at the counter or through the myPilot App.

He does believe, though, that parking is a problem in the country for commercial drivers. The ELD mandate has changed the equation, he notes, with some drivers adjusting schedules just so they can find parking spaces. “The ELD mandate has put this tremendous pressure on drivers,” he says.

“We knew from past research and current parking situation audits that at any given time, there is 1.5 million professional truckers on the road and less than 400,000 parking spaces,” Tanaka notes. “All we’re trying to do is make drivers’ lives easier throughout the day by making” it easier to locate parking spaces.

Like many in the industry, Tanaka says that the real problem is that spaces are not available where drivers need them, noting in particular logistics hotspots such as the Chicagoland area, Atlanta, Dallas and the Northeast where available parking locations fill up fast.

“[That leaves] parking available in locations with no food, no showers, no amenities, the things that [meet a drivers’ need],” he says. 

To help alleviate some of these problems, Pilot Flying J has just rolled out a new real-time parking availability feature for the myPilot App for rewards members. The program, developed with Sensys Networks, monitors available spots in Pilot Flying J locations and transmits that data to the app. Eighteen months in testing, the program launched on Dec. 15, 2017, at 30 locations in California, Oregon and Washington State along the I-5 corridor.

“As parking continues to be a major industry issue, with 3 million truckers on U.S. roads and highways and only 300,000 public parking spots, we are investing more time and resources into technology to ensure we’re doing everything we can to provide drivers a safe, reliable place to park,” said Ken Parent, president of Pilot Flying J. “Through this partnership, our goal is to provide professional drivers access to real-time, accurate information on space availability through our myPilot app to not only help drivers plan more efficiently and cut down on wasted fuel costs, but also increase safety and e-log compliance.”

Tanaka says the solution will be rolled out to more locations in the network by this summer, but Pilot Flying J is also seeking driver feedback on locations they believe the system should be installed.

“Our request and ask is that the pro driver community help us identify locations,” he says, adding that initial reaction from drivers has been positive and that “most of the country doesn’t have [real-time parking] information and they are eager to get this information.”

One lingering issue for any system, though, is how to keep drivers informed when spots disappear as they travel toward a location. Tanaka says that is a high priority for Pilot Flying J, and the company is working to develop artificial intelligence around this topic as well as incorporating trend reporting and push notifications.

“We are committed as a company to develop, build and grow technology that helps drivers,” Tanaka says.

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