Parking Solutions

Max Kvidera | January 01, 2012

Governmental efforts to expand truck parking continue in many states. The next step — providing real-time space availability information — is just around the corner in select areas.

 

Larry Cunningham, an owner-operator leased to Tennessee Steel Haulers, pulled into a TA truck stop east of Seattle one recent night and found all parking spaces occupied. He circled five times before he saw the lights of a rig that was ready to leave. “I got lucky,” he says.

It’s not uncommon, especially in high-traffic lanes, to see trucks parked in odd places, such as these parked in a spot close to a motel and Highway 99 in Northern California.

Such luck is too often missing. Since the 1990s, the federal government and some states have mounted studies and funded projects to address truck parking availability. While most federally funded programs are not developing additional parking spaces, they are focused on using Internet and other media to provide parking availability information to truckers. A few states have begun restoring rest area parking that had been closed, but little new capacity has been added. Truck stop chains, however, are opening new facilities.

Fueling the initiatives is a concern that a parking shortage is forcing truckers to drive longer to find open spaces. That contributes to fatigue, possible hours of service violations and diminished safety.

The safety aspect was tragically demonstrated in the case of Jason Rivenburg almost three years ago. Prevented from parking at a warehouse where he was scheduled to make a delivery, Rivenburg waited at an abandoned gas station, where he was murdered in a robbery. The incident led to a Congressional bill known as Jason’s Law that seeks $20 million annually for parking-related initiatives.

Jason’s Law and increased truck parking were reportedly recently discussed in a Senate committee meeting on a new transportation funding bill. The bill lists potential funding sources for adding truck parking, such as developing rest areas or converting inspection and weigh stations and park-and-ride areas. The committee approved the funding bill last month.

Truckers often have to seek parking, like Rivenburg did, at sites other than truck stops or rest areas – large retail stores, distribution centers or industrial areas. Cunningham once or twice a week will search for a warehouse district or other area where trucks are parked. He says he’s never been told to leave such a place and tries to leave early the next morning before workers arrive.

“If you pull in a lot some place, you’re a target,” he says. “California doesn’t want you parking in industrial areas.”

Parking in an industrial area is a last resort, says Bryan Peirsol, leased to Landstar Ranger. Since he frequently pulls oversize loads, he’s required to get off the road before dark. That often forces him to start looking for parking by mid-afternoon.

Matching supply with demand

A 2005 FMCSA study measured the daily parking demand of 287,000 spaces compared with the daily supply at 309,000 spaces. This suggests less a parking shortage than problems with geographic allocation or getting current information to drivers.

That’s long been the concern of NATSO, the trade group representing truck stops. “It’s also important to focus on maximizing the spaces that we already have,” says Tiffany Wlazlowski, NATSO spokeswoman. “We could have all the parking spaces in the world, but if truck drivers don’t know where they are or when they are open, or if everyone is trying to get into the same spot at the same time, then it doesn’t really matter all that much.”

California is developing a system that would provide real-time information on parking availability and a space-reservation system.

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