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Truck parking: High-stakes, high-risk issue

Sept. 22, 2015
"Safe, legal truck parking has historically been a major issue for motor carriers and commercial drivers, but the problem is now reaching a critical juncture," the ATRI researchers write.

If parking for passenger cars particularly in and around urban/metro areas has long been a concern, consider what that means for parking the much larger commercial trucks of various kinds — especially in an era of frequent traffic backups, a deteriorating infrastructure and construction to repair or update roadways.

Factors are converging to drive the parking issue higher on the trucking industry's priority list, so much so that a new coalition of federal and private organizations is working to address the problem and an American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) advisory committee voted truck parking its top research issue this year. In a research brief published this week, ATRI points out a number of reasons truck parking is approaching a "critical juncture" and needs to be addressed.

Truck drivers lose time — and therefore money — having to look around for a place to park, and they may be driving around fatigued and less alert, increasing the risk of an accident. Many end up parked illegally on a highway access ramp or shoulder, which states have found can be a significant driver of collisions.

Drivers unable to find safe parking may also place themselves in danger, as in the 2009 case of Jason Rivenburga truck driver who was shot and killed after he parked at an abandoned South Carolina gas station — the only spot he could find available — and criminals tried to rob him.

"Safe, legal truck parking has historically been a major issue for motor carriers and commercial drivers, but the problem is now reaching a critical juncture," the ATRI researchers write. The brief notes that state budget shortfalls have caused a loss "of many hundreds of public truck parking spaces." Also, supply chains are being reshaped around metro regions and distribution, which has "moved the truck parking 'sweet spot' for many urban areas."

Potential planning roadblocks such as zoning regulations "have had a major impact" on available locations and quantity of truck parking, according to ATRI. While the issue has been on drivers' and carriers' radar screens for decades, the researchers note that states have been conducting their own analyses in recent years and have found varying levels of problems with available truck parking.

For example, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority claimed in the summer of 2006 that more than 82% of the region's public and private truck parking lots were over capacity, and demand called for some 1,300 additional parking spaces, according to the ATRI report. A 2012 Michigan cost-benefit analysis of public rest areas found that the average benefits of the locations were five times more than average costs when things like fatigue-related crashes are factored in.

A 2009 California study similarly found a connection between public rest areas and motor vehicle accidents — or rather, a lack of them, the ATRI researchers point out. That study found that fatigue-related crashes were less likely within the 30 miles following a rest area, but at greater distances the accident likelihood "increased significantly."

Meanwhile, the lack of available truck parking is viewed as a direct driver of illegal truck parking along highway on and off ramps and shoulders. "Many [law] enforcement agencies do not cite drivers for illegal parking to reduce fatigued driving," ATRI notes.

But such illegal parking also causes accidents, injuries and deaths: a July 2015 study by the Virginia Department of Transportation found that from 2008 to 2012, one out of four crashes involving trucks occurred on highway access ramps.

Pay to play?

It's bad all around when truck drivers can't find a place to park and take a break, which has been happening frequently across the United States for decades. ATRI asked truck drivers about one idea to help — reserving parking spaces, possibly at a cost — and got an earful.

The question comes down to what form such reservations would take. They could be like no-charge restaurant reservations, for instance, where you'd just reserve online or call ahead, or hotel reservations, where if you don't keep them, you may be on the hook to pay some amount. Or parking reservations could be their own add-on charge.

And just who would cover any fees or up-front costs of these hypothetical truck parking reservations is a key issue ATRI turned up in its survey of more than 1,400 truck drivers. Against a backdrop of serious and worsening driver shortages and questions of driver pay adequacy, that much comes as little surprise.

In ATRI's survey, close to half of truck driver respondents — about 48% — said they're not willing to pay any amount to reserve a parking space. For the rest, it's a question of how much: one out of five said they'd be willing to pay between $1.00 and $5.00, and about that same amount said they'd be willing to pay between $6.00 and $10.00. Another 9% said they're willing to pay from $11.00 to $15.00 and about 2% said they'd pay $16.00 to $20.00. Slightly less than 1% said they'd pay $21.00 or more.

The ATRI researchers note that the push-back from nearly half the drivers unwilling to pay anything could just be because fee-based parking reservations are something they're not used to. "The prevalence of 'I would not be willing to pay any amount' responses may relate to driving on corridors with greater parking supply or the initial rejection of an unfamiliar concept, although industry economics do favor cost reductions wherever possible," the study authors write.

As far as who ultimately should pay for truck parking reservations if there's a cost, nearly 47% of respondent drivers said it ought to be the motor carrier's responsibility, about 21% said carriers and drivers should split the cost, about 15% said only drivers should pay and about 6% said fees should be the government's responsibility. Another approximately 6% reiterated that there should be no parking reservation fees or just stated "other."

In an era of common traffic backups and other delays, what if a truck driver pays to reserve a space and can't get to that location on time? Slightly more than half the ATRI survey respondents said the fee should be refunded; some 32% said the fee should be transferrable to a new date and time; about 10% said the fee should be forfeited; and a little less than 8% said something "other" than those outcomes ought to happen.

"The trend and conclusion appears to be that willingness to pay increases when the responsible party is someone other than the driver," ATRI observes. Additionally, owner-operators and independent contractors — who generally are responsible for business expenses — "are expected to have differing expectations of payment responsibility" than employee drivers do, ATRI notes, since those latter drivers' carriers typically cover such expenses.

What kind of driver, and where

Indeed, the study found some differences between driver type and willingness to pay to reserve parking. Independent contractors were most willing — 59% responded that they'd pay some amount — and half of owner-operators said they're willing to pay for parking reservations. Slightly fewer employee drivers, about 48%, said they'd be willing to pay to reserve parking.

Breaking down the 1,400+ survey respondents by driver type, about 77% worked at for-hire motor carriers and about 23% worked for private fleets. More than half, about 53%, were employee drivers, while nearly 26% were independent contractors leased to a motor carrier and about 22% were owner-operators, according to ATRI.  

Most of the respondent drivers hauled truckloads (about two-thirds), while the remainder hauled flatbed trailers (11%); less-than-load (about 6%); tankers (about 4%); express/parcel loads (1.5%); intermodal drayage (1%); or other (about 10%).

The survey attempted to gauge if the parking problem is more acute at private or public truck stops. About 62% of truck drivers who took the survey said it's equally difficult to find parking at public and private locations. Some 24% said getting a spot at a private rest stop is harder, and about 14% said it's harder to find a space at public rest stops.

Notably, most of the respondent drivers saying they'd be more likely to reserve parking spaces in metro areas, right where truck parking — and space in general — is toughest to come by. Regarding where they'd be more likely to reserve a space, about 49% of truck drivers indicated "major metropolitan areas"; a little more than 27% indicated "all areas"; slightly less than 8% indicated "rural areas"; nearly 7% indicated "smaller metropolitan areas"; and about 10% indicated "other."

The largest portion of survey respondents, about 32%, covered long-haul distances of 1,000 miles or more, with descending percentages as delivery distances shortened to inter-regional hauling between 500 and 999 miles (nearly 30%); regional hauling between 100 and 499 miles (about 28%); and local hauling of less than 100 miles (about 10%).

Breaking things down by mileage ranges, not particularly surprising, more long-haul drivers (59%) said they're willing to pay some amount to reserve parking. By contrast, 45% of inter-regional drivers, 48% of regional drivers and 55% of local drivers indicated they're willing to pay some amount.

That response from local drivers, however, is something of an anomaly. The study authors note that the 55% of local drivers who said they're willing to pay for reservations is "an unexpected response given that this group typically averages less than 100 miles per trip."

For more information on the ATRI truck parking brief, visit

About the Author

Aaron Marsh

Before computerization had fully taken hold and automotive work took someone who speaks engine, Aaron grew up in Upstate New York taking cars apart and fixing and rewiring them, keeping more than a few great jalopies (classics) on the road that probably didn't deserve to be. He spent a decade inside the Beltway covering Congress and the intricacies of the health care system before a stint in local New England news, picking up awards for both pen and camera.

He's written about you-name-it, from transportation and law and the courts to events of all kinds and telecommunications, and landed in trucking when he joined Fleet Owner in July 2015. Long an editorial leader, he's a keeper of knowledge at Fleet Owner ready to dive in on the technical and the topical inside and all around trucking—and still turns a wrench or two. Or three. 

And he's never without a camera, or so rumor has it.

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