The parking plan
Preparations for shutting down begin before you start the day.
Stepped-up enforcement of roadside no-parking zones, fewer public rest area spaces, imposed time limits in rest areas and on shoulders: these are but a few of the parking hassles drivers face routinely.
Ron Donnelly, owner-operator of Refrigerated American Delivery Services in Sacramento, Calif., says the rise in congestion can be held responsible. He’s been driving for more than 30 years and has seen it firsthand. “Twenty years ago there were many more parking places,” he says. “You could park just about anywhere you wanted to, on the roadside.”
More parking is needed in high-traffic lanes, for certain. The best study of the parking needs of truck drivers was a federal effort, the result of a driver survey and other info collected in the early part of this decade. It’s more than five years old, now, but it estimated an apparent shortage of spaces in both truckstops and rest areas in six states, and shortages in rest areas in the vast majority of states, particularly in high-traffic lanes. Over the same time period, a concurrent American Trucking Associations report noted, the feds made money available to states for the express purpose of expanding truck parking options. But ATA has said more recently that only one state had accepted any federal cash for this purpose.
Not-in-my-backyard sentiments have kept truck parking off state budget priorities lists nationwide. Truckstops may have taken up the slack – or not. It depends where you are. One thing is clear: the responsibility for finding parking before you’re out of hours is on you, and conscientious drivers know the score. Regardless of whether you’re on a regional dedicated haul or coast-to-coast irregular route, where you park should be one of your chief concerns. It could mean the difference between a good night’s sleep and an early wake-up call from Smokey.
Know where you’ll be
Largely, whether you can find a good parking space or not is a function of the time of day you shut down. “Nowadays if you’re not at the truckstop by 6 p.m. you might have a tough time getting in,” says San Antonio, Texas-based owner-operator Leonard Martin, who’s leased to Arnold Transportation. “We’ve got all these ‘solar-powered trucks’ today. As soon as the sun goes down they’ve got to park.”
Jokes aside, Martin says he doesn’t at all mind running nights, and if his delivery and load times will allow it, he’ll get on a night driving schedule to get that truckstop space, pulling in at 8 a.m or later, well after most drivers have left for the road.
Operational decisions like these can be the key to getting the space you want. Owner-operator Martin prefers the amenities a large truckstop offers to living exclusively out of the truck, as do many drivers. “I’m not a big fan of rest areas,” he says. “Sometimes you want to get out of the truck. If you’re in a big Flying J, you can go inside and stretch out and watch their TV for a while. People will surely look at you funny if you’re hanging around outside a rest area bathroom.”
Late-night driving also allows Martin to accurately pinpoint where he’ll be when he’s out of hours, not always a reliable option. “I never know where I’m going to be,” says owner-operator Buck Landry, dedicated to Premiere Chemical and leased to L&B Transport. The Pierre Part, La., native runs the southern portion of the country often, and “since Rita,” he says, “you might hit Houston and spend three hours getting through there. New Orleans is horrible since Katrina.”
Still, advance contingency planning is possible, and owner-operator Donnelly says this is a decisive element of any successful parking plan. “You need a back-up plan,” he says. “If the truckstops are full and the rest areas are full, you have to have an alternative place to park.”
Before you start your day, take the time to pinpoint where you expect to be and the ideal parking spot along that route. If you drive for or are leased to a larger carrier, know the location of its terminals. Online you can visit the searchable truckstop directory hosted by the National Association of Truckstop Operators to find alternate truckstops, and work with maps and state DOT websites for potential rest areas.
Special programs like ProMiles or PC Miler can help with planning as well, and the “Find Businesses” function in Google Maps is relatively reliable when you’re looking for large truckstops.
If you’ll be within range of a customer at the end of the day’s haul, call ahead to inquire about parking facilities on their site. But always be sure to locate potential alternates within a 50-mile radius, particularly if your route takes you around Atlanta or Chicago at rush hour – or if you’re scheduled to load or unload along the way. Landry says hold-ups at customer facilities in his niche business, bulk hazmat hauling, routinely eat into his driving time. “Unloading and loading is my biggest killer,” he says. “Logging all that time waiting on-duty, non-driving, almost always starts to cut into my driving time. That in itself makes parking hard to predict.”