The lack of adequate truck parking has been known for some time. Public attention, unfortunately, is directed to the issue only rarely. Often, it takes a tragedy, such as the death of truck driver Jason Rivenburg, to focus on the human element and not just the regulatory requirement that truck operators and their machinery must stop every so often.
The truck parking surveys conducted under Jason’s Law do provide one step toward solving the shortage. We now know there are approximately 313,000 truck parking spaces nationwide. And while the number of spaces has grown over time, we also now know they are not necessarily located where there is demand. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) noted that 38% of truck tonnage heads to urban areas that offer only 8.5% of the truck parking spaces. Major truck corridors, like I-5 in California and I-95 along the East Coast, continually suffer from lack of truck parking spaces.
Having numbers is but the first step. Creating new truck parking spaces requires planning and money. Meanwhile, truck drivers need a way to find available parking without resorting to hearsay and sheer luck. A 2016 survey by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) showed that 40% of truck drivers cut their workday short by up to an hour just to grab a legal parking spot before they are forced to stop by law. That results in an estimated $4,600 annual loss of income to each of those drivers.
There are efforts underway to find money to build truck parking spaces and to save truck drivers time (and money) in locating them. Congressman Mike Bost (R-IL) introduced the “Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act,” which became part of the House infrastructure bill, H.R. 3684. Rep. Bost, and his 24 co-sponsors, seek $1 billion in U.S. Transportation Department-administered truck parking grants, at $250 million per year from 2023 to 2026. Despite the Democratic-controlled House, Republican Bost says the truck parking measure is supported by both sides of the aisle. The larger question is what happens to infrastructure legislation itself.
Meanwhile, ATRI recently studied the means by which truck drivers learn of existing available parking spaces. Experience, advance planning and good communication among motor carrier team members is essential to securing safe and convenient truck parking. Today, though, as the saying goes, “There’s an app for that!” Also, there are variable message signs (VMS), advising truck drivers of the nearest parking location and the number of available spaces.
ATRI reviews both solutions. Smartphone apps can be convenient, but smartphone app utilization is limited by the federal “one button press” restriction on handheld mobile devices while driving a commercial vehicle. A truck may literally need to first be parked before a smartphone truck parking app can be fully used.
Variable message signs do not cause the truck driver to look down at a handheld device. With VMS, the key to success is accuracy. Truck drivers must be able to rely on the information displayed. That is driven by how the parking facility measures available spaces and how often it updates the VMS. ATRI gives guidance on both accounts.
ATRI found that truck driver age, experience and gender can influence the use of smartphone apps or reliance on VMS. Simply put, there is no substitute for planning. Today, though, there is help along the way in locating truck parking spaces. And, with Congressional action, there may be money to build more.