An ATRI survey shows drivers and their management don't rate the parking issue as equally significant

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There is a big disconnect between drivers and the people who manage transportation companies on how big of an issue parking is.

In the annual survey of the American Transportation Research Institute, parking was rated the fifth overall most important issue facing the industry. But it got to that middle-of-the-pack number because the category where you would find management and other respondents who aren't behind the wheel rated it ninth. The drivers? They rated it second.

To show how significant an issue it has become, parking wasn't even in the top 10 in 2011. It actually slid one spot this year, to 5th from 4th, but was 8th in 2012 and 6th the two subsequent years.

"I would suggest if you are in the motor carrier group, if you care about your drivers and driver retention, you better care about what is on the driver list (of significant issues)," Rebecca Brewster, the President and COO of ATRI said of the results. They were released to a small press briefing as part of the American Trucking Association's Management Conference & Exhibition in Austin.

The trucking industry is a "long way" from resolving the parking issue, "so I don't see parking coming off the list for awhile."

Brewster threw her out her own personal take on the issue. She says on her way to work each day in Atlanta, she passes a shopping area with a huge sign that spells out the facility's ban on truck parking. "I want to go in there and say, how do you think you get your products?" Brewster said.

Rebecca Brewster, President and COO of the American Transportation Research Institute

Rebecca Brewster, President and COO of the American Transportation Research Institute

In the report about the survey, ATRI--which is affiliated with ATA--laid out what its "proposed strategies" for dealing with the parking issue.

--"Identify strategic locations on the National Freight Network for new or expanded truck parking due to increased traffic congestion." Among the specific recommendations would be to reopen what it calls "shuttered" parking areas and investing in new facilities. "Other options, such as repurposing vacant urban and suburban parcels for truck parking, are also being explored as potential solutions to this critical industry issue."

--Educating the public on what happens in terms of safety when once-available parking facilities are closed and there isn't a corresponding increase in parking elsewhere. The ATRI report said its own research said that almost 50% of the truck driver respondents park on such dangerous locations as highway shoulders or ramps between three and seven times per week. That's the "preferred" strategy for a little over 38% of the respondents; that's up a huge 9 percentage points in just one year.

--Further research on real-time truck parking information and reservation systems. The percentage of respondents interested in this solution rose to 11.7% from 7.2%. A pilot system under the Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials (MAASTO) is slated for a launch next year.

The strategies come from proposals made by the respondents.

Brewster said even with the gap between driver ranking of the issue and the ranking by the motor carrier segments, parking has been moving up the list of the latter group as well. It's significant, she said, "because the only way we're going to deal with this problem is as an industry.

The other issues identified as key by the ATRI study are largely as one might expect. The driver shortage was #1 for the second year in a row, and what's notable is that just two years ago it was 7th. But just like the differences between drivers and motor carrier officials on parking, the shortage was #1 for the motor carrier segment, and #9 for the drivers.

"The divergence of opinions on this issue is to be expected," ATRI said in the report. (D)rivers benefit from the shortage through more competitive compensation, as wages, benefits and bonuses increase. At the same time, these growing compensation packages are squeezing profit margins for motor carriers, limit(ing) their ability to expand capacity in a strong market for truck transportation."

What's notable about the proposed strategies for the driver shortage is that two of the three of them are about pulling in the 18-20 year old contingent, and the third is pretty close. It's as if the trucking industry views that age group as the only ones they can significantly recruit from, even though Brewster, when questioned, conceded that ATRI does not have data on the number of intrastate drivers 18-20, which the industry talks about frequently as a path out of the driver squeeze.

The three strategies for the driver shortage were Congressional backing of such measures as the DRIVE-Safe Act, which would allow 18-20 year olds to drive interstate; expansion of apprentice programs; and collection of data on the safety performance of those intrastate 18-20 year old drivers.

On the survey, driver retention was #4 for the drivers, and #2 for the motor carriers for an overall rating of third.

The ELD mandate dropped to fourth overall from second, and even for drivers, it was just third. But for drivers, the Hours of Service rule was #1, and it was #3 for the motor carriers for an overall score of second-biggest issue.

The survey was based on 1,539 responses. Motor carrier respondents were 47.5% of the pool, drivers were 41.3%, and "other industry stakeholders" accounted for the balance.