Planning to Park

One of the frustrations of living on the road remains being unable to park where one wishes – where the food is good, the lot is big and delivery is within reasonable distance. Such problems are a few of the many facing the truck driver in a system that is overburdened with trucks despite the economic slowdown. Finding a place to park that has the services you need and the convenience you want can make a long day seem endless.

The problem is most acute near big cities. There are major metropolitan areas in this country in which there are no truckstops to speak of. If you run to Boston, you know the closest place south of there is Mike’s on Route 1 and 495. It has plenty of parking, and you can get up early to beat the traffic, grab a cup of coffee and be on your way. But the services are limited. If you’re running into New York from the West, you’ve got to stay out in Columbia or Bartonsville, a good hour and a half to the GW. And up Interstate 78, I-287 and I-80, you’ve got to run in from Warren Glen on the Jersey-Keystone line; figure a good hour and a half to the bridge again. You need to get up earlier to compensate for not getting in closer the night before. It’s unlikely that you will want to run all the way to your drop the night before in any event, not in New York.

According to NATSO, the national trade association representing truckstop operators, there are between 280,000 to 300,000 parking spaces in the country’s 2,000 to 3,000 truckstops. There are about another 30,000 truck parking spaces at interstate rest areas. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey, there are more than 2.5 million heavy trucks in use. Of those, more than 700,000 run medium to long hauls. But no one really knows how many of those trucks compete for truckstop parking spaces on a given night. A Federal Highway Administration report to Congress on the subject was expected last month that should provide some numbers. During a panel session at the Truckload Carriers Association annual meeting in April, Raymond Krammes, a senior FHWA highway research engineer said the report would affirm there is a shortage of truck parking in some urban areas.

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NATSO agrees there is a shortage of parking in some areas but contends trucking companies and drivers should recognize facts when they sign fuel agreements and planning trips.

Sometimes fleets do not consider driver services and parking when negotiating fueling deals with truckstop operators, according to Scott Imus, NATSO vice president of government affairs, “Many trucking companies have put no priority on parking. They base their fueling systems on where the fuel is cheap. They don’t ask if there is safe, secure parking,” Imus says. Thus drivers often find themselves at the end of a 10-hour shift, having planned to fuel and sleep, out of hours, full of fuel, but with no available parking.

Drivers should also think about parking before getting to the end of their hours. In an effort to make more miles, Imus says some drivers leave themselves a very narrow window of opportunity to find parking. NATSO recommends drivers and dispatchers include parking in their trip planning before hitting the road. Still, planning to park can be difficult depending on a fleet’s fueling policies, Imus says.

Parking and driver services are important criteria with some fleets when negotiating fuel deals. Randy Kopecki is fuel and operations tax manager for Barr-Nunn, Granger, Iowa. When he negotiates for fuel with truckstops he says he does not negotiate solely based on fuel price. There are 300 stops in his fuel system, and very few of them have fewer than 100 spaces, he says. Most have at least 175 spaces.

Likewise, Jeff Mcguire, fuel operations manager at CR England, Salt Lake City, will not negotiate for fuel unless a stop has at least five fuel islands, five showers, and 80-100 spaces. But McGuire doesn’t think parking problems can be remedied by driver-friendly fuel systems alone.

Even with the problem quantified by the FHWA study, there are no easy answers. Most observers agree it is unlikely the U.S. Department of Transportation will spend much money building new rest areas, given the maintenance and repair needs of the nation’s highway system. States don’t have the money to build more rest areas, and some are closing rest areas due to lack of funding.

This has prompted some states and trucking groups to push for repeal of a ban on commercialization along interstate right-of-ways. If the ban was lifted, states could contract with private parties to build new rest areas. Supposedly, to earn a return on their investments, those contractors would offer food, fuel and other services at their rest areas. NATSO is fighting this because truckstop operators believe right-of-way operations would have an unfair business advantage.

In the meantime, the truckstop industry is trying to address the problem by opening new sites and enlarging existing ones. NATSO says that its members are adding about 20,000 spaces, an increase of about 6.5 percent per year, and could do more if local obstacles to truckstop construction and expansion were removed. Imus suggests that shippers and receivers be required to do their part by providing bigger pick-up and delivery windows and staging areas.

“Parking in truckstops is expensive for the truckstop,” Imus says. “It costs about $100,000 an acre to put in space and $8,000 to $10,000 a year to maintain it.” An acre is enough room for about 18 trucks. According to Imus, most NASTO members don’t charge for parking, and none charge customers for parking.

If there is a solution to the parking issue, it appears to exist only in the future. Drivers will have to live with the problem and find solutions on their own. Becoming more self-contained is a partial solution, in some circumstances. Stopping early in the evening may suit some drivers; pushing the log to its limit may suit others. Flexibility is the key. Expect to be disappointed and plan your route, especially the night before a morning drop, to include several possible parking options. Don’t wait until the end of the day to take a shower and fuel. Living on the road has never been easy. Keeping it manageable remains the responsibility of the individual driver, as it doesn’t look like there is help on the horizon anytime soon.