Truck Parking Club turns free spaces paid: Is this the future of parking?

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Updated Jun 4, 2024
Truck Parking Club
Truck Parking Club staff pose for a picture with their branded van that they use to tour trade shows and truck stops around the country.
Truck Parking Club

Truck Parking Club, the social media-savvy "AirBnB of truck parking" startup that set out with the mission of helping land owners monetize vacant lots by turning them into truck parking, has "crossed the line" with some drivers as previously free spots at major truck stops become paid reservations in their system. 

Michelle Kitchin has been hauling since 1988, and now works as a company driver for Van Eerden Trucking, hauling office furniture out west and coming back with a reefer full of produce. As such, she's hit up the same handful of Midwest to more western Flying J truck stop locations for decades. 

A recent trip to the Flying J location in Avoca, Iowa, served an unwelcome surprise. 

"I had planned to stop at the big rest area that holds 60-70 trucks in Iowa, but two miles out there's a big orange sign that says it's closed," she said. "I was running close to my hours, and the next available spot is at the scale."

Kitchin runs with a dog, so she's careful where she parks. She knows her spots. "That particular scale, the lights don’t come on at night," she said. "I personally am not going to stop there."

The next available spot was at the Flying J. "It's always packed," she said. There were a couple spots open she could see when she got there, but also a "whole row of spots empty with signs on it that say to reserve through a private app."

The app is that of Truck Parking Club, a fast-scaling parking-reservations startup that's quickly become a mainstay at trucking trade shows and in social media. 

Company driver Kitchin earns on miles traveled, and doesn't get reimbursed for paid parking spots unless she works it out with her dispatch first. When she does need paid parking at a major truck stop, she tends to pay with loyalty points within the truck stop's own reservation system.

"When you think about the point system, I don’t get paid for that -- let’s say 15 minutes -- that I fuel. It's coming off of my 70 hours and eliminating 15 miles' worth of pay, because I have to be on-duty," she said. "Those points are not free to me. Those points are really my payment for fueling up the truck" for her fleet. 

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But Truck Parking Club doesn't accept Flying J points. "Had the lot been full, or I’m out of hours and tired, then say I don't have a credit card or my credit card is maxed out, what do I do?" she said. "That’s when they cross the line" by turning previously free parking spots into paid-only spots that need an app and credit card. 

Kitchin fired off some tweets expressing her frustration. Truck Parking Club co-founder Evan Shelley responded, proposing a livestream discussion with any upset drivers. The livestream never happened, but a look at both sides of the story reveals how truck parking is evolving, and who feels the hurt from the growing pains. 

Truck Parking Club v. the truck parking crisis 

Now in just its second year of operation, Truck Parking Club recently passed 400 truck parking locations within its app, including 25 truck stops, a mix of smaller outfits and a few Pilot Flying J network locations. According to Shelley, the company has already in 2024 added 1,771 new truck parking spots that weren't available before in any form -- paid or not. These mostly come from incentivizing private land owners to open up vacant lots. 

[Related: New site to reserve truck parking something of an 'AirBnB' for facilities]

On that front, Kitchin had high praise for the Truck Parking Club co-founder. "The spots he's generating from trailer repair places or companies that have extra room, that is awesome," she said. 

In 2023, an Overdrive review of truck parking creation found that, despite billions in federal, state and local funding for public entities, private industry really leads addition of new truck parking at scale. Truck Parking Club, as noted just a two-year-old business, might have already surpassed the 2024 growth of three traditional truck stops. TA/Petro, for example, only planned to add 1,200 spots all year. Pilot/Flying J is looking to add about 500, and Love's hoped to add 2,000 all year. Some of the first two networks' spots, no doubt, will filter into TA and Pilot chains' parking-reservation systems.  

Kitchin is a board member of Real Women In Trucking, an organization that has successfully advocated for truck parking construction, including 400 new spots in Miami in 2023. The group's founders were instrumental in the promotion and passage of Jason's Law more than a decade ago, and RWIT remains a staunch advocate for truck drivers of all stripes in exploitative situations. 

Truck Parking Club's Evan Shelley had praise for Kitchin and RWIT, noting he supports "anything" that advocates for drivers and increases truck parking. South Florida desperately needed the spots, too, he noted of the Miami project. 

Kitchin and others, though, feel Shelley and company ought not to be in the business of monetizing formerly free spaces as part of their efforts to grow.  "You don’t get to take free stuff," Kitchin said. "That’s exploitation. You’re exploiting a major industry. It's no different than raising the price of bottled water in Flint."  

An RWIT spokesperson elaborated on what she was hearing from members and other drivers. "I'm seeing drivers posting around too that places they have been parking free for years now have TPC signs up. They don't hold the lease on these properties. They have inserted themselves as brokers."

Potential enforcement mechanisms for these newly paid spots also concerned Kitchin. Who would enforce the app's reservation systems? Would a Flying J attendant rouse a sleeping driver if he parked in the spot she paid for? Would a truck stop using Truck Parking Club contract with a predatory towing outfit and extort her for cash?

Kitchin acknowledged that, often, drivers park and don't pay, or fuel, or even come inside for a snack, and the truck stop gets stuck with the maintenance bill. But Shelley, in her opinion, was disrupting a balance, hurting truckers to the benefit of business and land owners. 

"The thing with the truck-stop reservations is, as much as I hate that they're charging us, that money is probably going back into covering the cost of people cooking in trucks and making a mess and stuff like that," she said. "Truck stops are businesses. They can charge me whatever they want, but an outside guy coming in and taking advantage" crosses the line, she said, referring to Shelley. 

Shelley said Kitchin is "not the only one" complaining about the paid-only parking spots at Flying J that don't accept points, and that he's working to fix it. 

"We get calls into customer service with people calling asking if we can start accepting Pilot Flying J points," he said. "We’re doing everything we can do to get that ability onto our app to still give the drivers the ability to use the points. I feel for them and I hear you, driver, and we are working on it."

But Shelley also sympathized with the truck stop owners. "The issue is 85% of truckers never even come in the store," he reported hearing from truck stops. Shelley said it can cost "several hundred thousand per acre" to fix rutted-out, abused parking lots, and that if truck stops don't make money, they will simply close their doors and chain up the lots. "It is a business decision if the lots shut down, and it’s less parking for drivers," he said. 

As for enforcement, Truck Parking Club leaves it up to the individual property owners, but they have a "rigorous" onboarding process for parking facilities, according to Shelley. He takes the threat of predatory towing very seriously. "We do not support anything that is predatory towing or predatory booting," he said. "We haven't once experienced that but if we did," that parking facility would be swiftly booted from the TPC system. 

[Related: Trucking's best defense against predatory towing: A step-by-step guide

When major truck stop chains and others began to move toward paid spaces in their networks, a principal selling point was the ability for truckers to reserve those spaces ahead of time. That's not 100% the case with these newly monetized spaces Truck Parking Club is now collecting payment for, however, which Kitchin took issue with at the Avoca, Iowa, Flying J location. It doesn't advertise that about a quarter of its 200 spots are now pay-to-park, and the paid spots can't be reserved ahead of time. 

"Not being able to reserve offers no extra benefits for $15 than the truck stops already offer for free," Kitchin said. "And 50 people paying $15 a night while 150 pay zero, without any extra benefits, is hardly acceptable."

Shelley said 93% of the app's locations in general take reservations -- "mostly our never publicly available spots." Some locations, however, mostly truck stops, do not, he added.

Kitchin's worries about enforcement practices are well-founded, too, it seems. 

"We found that reservations are extremely hard to keep other non-paying drivers out of the reserved spot at a truck stop where a lot of drivers are coming and going," said Shelley. "Issues like this can lead to altercations between drivers and truck stop staff, and we want to avoid that happening. We never want to accept money from a driver if they aren't already parked in a space at a truck stop."

[Related: Paid parking -- how often do you pay for space?]

Selling out truckers? Or supporting them ... 

Truck Parking ClubTruck Parking Club cofounder Evan Shelley (left) on an eight-day haul with owner-operator and TPC brand ambassador Chris Thomas.Truck Parking Club

A Truck Parking Club ambassador, owner-operator Chris Thomas (@indietrucker on Twitter), took some heat in the back-and-forth as being the truck driver face of the startup. He responded with a nuanced view of the situation, drawing on 19 years hauling. 

"This whole problem has been created," he said. "This didn’t exist before e-logs. Or it did exist, but I could drive, we all did, we would all just drive until we found parking."

[Related: ELDs up the ante on parking

Thomas pointed to TA/Petro moving towards paid parking, even before the electronic logging device mandate. "Everyone is doing it. I'd rather have a company with a face than 30 different companies'" apps installed on a single phone, he said. "You can actually call [Truck Parking Club] customer service and get through to someone." 

Truck Parking Club makes a point of hiring former truckers. Retired or otherwise former drivers comprise 100% of customer service employees, according to Shelley. When you call Truck Parking Club's 24/7 line, it's them you'd speak to. 

In January, owner-operator Thomas took Shelley on an eight-day haul across America, yet Thomas said he hasn't used a Truck Parking Club spot in a month or so for a perhaps obvious reason. "I'd go for the free parking as much as humanly possible," he said. "I think it’s going to be some time before this whole paid-parking thing is kind of ironed out. A lot of this stuff is pretty new."  

Told about Truck Parking Club's efforts to accept points, Kitchin noted "it would be a start." 

If Truck Parking Club continues to scale up its efforts with truck stops themselves, more previously free spots could become paid, though Shelley said he heavily incentivizes property owners to allow free parking if the driver buys fuel or products at the shop. 

Kitchin objects to the idea that a tech company is taking something away from her, that Truck Parking Club is advertising revenue streams to property owners -- that revenue would come out of her pocket and the pockets of drivers like her. 

Shelley promised to remedy the loyalty points payment issue and hopes to add value overall. "We have complete sympathy for drivers. It’s an extremely hard career as a company driver or owner-op. We just didn’t know it was an issue. This is a learning lesson for us."

What do you think? Answer the question below to help us get a feel for how you approach paid parking and reservations, and feel free to leave a comment, too.