A panel, in part consisting of seasoned owner-operators, held on the final day of at the Great American Trucking Show on Aug. 25 explored the trucking industry’s pressing truck parking shortage, offering suggestions for how drivers can better incorporate parking in planning and advocate for additional parking capacity. Finding ways to increase parking capacity where needed is obviously key, the panelists noted, as is increasing visibility of spaces available at existing locations via notification systems.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for capacity out there that I think we’re not really tapping into,” said Desiree Wood, a longtime independent owner-operator and president of Real Women in Trucking advocacy group. She was referring to small, independent truck stops that many drivers, especially new company drivers, aren’t aware exist. “Communication is key to letting them know ‘there’s some place right here — you don’t have to park on the ramp.’ There are certain areas where you would see miles and miles of trucks, but there is a little mom and pop” nearby with enough spaces to accommodate them, she said.
Joining Wood on the panel were Gary Buchs, a longtime owner-operator, leased to Landstar, and contributor to Overdrive‘s Overdrive Extra blog; Mike Johnson, a transportation planner for the North Central Texas Council of Governments; and Allan Rutter, an administrator who currently heads a division of Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute. Scott Grenerth, a former owner-operator and current consultant for the Truck Specialized Parking Services company, moderated the discussion. Grenerth’s company is active in both the public and private sector in increasing parking capacity and parking notification systems.
Wood noted that shippers and receivers should “come to the table” as participants to help alleviate the industry’s parking crisis. “They’re a huge part of the problem,” she said. “They need to be accountable” for pushing truckers away from their facilities even after they’ve exhausted drivers’ hours with detention time. “How do we get shippers and receivers to come to the table?” she asked, proposing a recognition program similar to that of the EPA Smartway program, which could reward shippers and receivers who help drivers find parking or park at their facilities when needed.
Pointing to a shipper that has come to the table, Grenerth referenced the success of a roughly two-year-old program in place at facilities of major shipper Unilever. In late 2015, the company began allowing drivers to park at their facilities under its Safe Haven program with a limited rule set. Grenerth said he asked Unilever last year how many problems they’d had with the program so far. “Zero,” Grenerth said. “Not one single thing at all at any of their locations” had occurred that threw the program in a negative light at the company.
Owner-operator Buchs said drivers need to make parking a priority in their scheduling and routing, advising drivers to put in work well ahead of time to find a safe parking space. “It cannot be a secondary thought,” he said. “When I start my week, when I start my day — I have a plan. I know where I’m going to finish. If I have to reserve parking to ensure that I have a space, I do not hesitate. I may even do that days in advance,” he said.
“People say that you can’t plan that. Well, I’m the owner. I have the keys. I control my schedule,” he said.
Operators should leverage “every available tool in our toolbox,” he said, including readily available satellite-based maps, GPS systems and smartphone apps to search for parking near their destination. He’ll often find lots at businesses by looking at maps of satellite-based photos and call them to ask if he can park there. Once he arrives, he introduces himself, passes along his contact information and treats the lot courteously, he says.
He also phones receivers regularly to inquire about parking. “One of the first things I do when I get a load order or whatever is I call my customers and I ask, ‘Is there parking?’ You’d be surprised,” he said, how often that yields a parking spot. “It takes a little bit of work, but parking can’t be an afterthought. It can’t be ‘Oh, I’m 30 minutes before my time’s up, where do I park?'”
He also recommended that drivers learn how to use the allotted 8/2 split in hours of service regulations as a means to better position themselves to find a parking space.
Involvement on the infrastructure front
Rutter and Johnson both pressed truckers to get involved and provide infrastructure planners and researchers with as much information as they can.
“When you see opportunities” to participate, said Johnson, do so. When researchers from state, local and regional organizations send out surveys to help identify problem areas, much more of which has been ongoing in the wake of Jason’s Law codification and the establishment of the National Coalition on Truck Parking and its regional working groups, “Send them out to your friends, send them out to other drivers. Give good, specific examples. When we say ‘where do you feel truck parking is lacking?’ don’t say ‘everywhere.'”
Be more specific, he offered, such as: “‘I-35 near this juncture/area,'” say. “Come meet people at committees, shake hands. We have a lot of different interests” in planning meetings headed up by his organization, a metropolitan planning organization (MPO), he said, and drivers have the opportunity to make their voices heard at those public meetings — there’s a regional MPO for virtually every area of the United States.
Rutter said that the Federal Highway Administration is prepping its second Jason’s Law survey on truck parking and encouraged drivers to participate.