Research panel debates funding sources for truck parking

Demand for truck parking continues to outpace supply as the industry struggles to find consensus on how to solve the problem.

The issue — which, for commercial drivers, ranked third in 2019 behind compensation and hours of service, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) — was a highlight of a panel discussion at the Transportation Research Board’s annual convention in Washington.

Darrin Roth, ATA’s vice president for highway policy, pointed out that 40% of drivers are shutting down operations 31-60 minutes early just to ensure they can find parking. That leads to a yearly loss of 9,300 miles of wage-earning potential, Roth said, equivalent to more than a $5,500 potential wage loss — or a 12% cut in annual pay.

“It’s one of the main reasons long-haul drivers don’t want to be long-haul drivers, because they can’t find a good, safe place to park every night — or often struggle to,” he said.

Through deployment of its Truck Parking Availability System (TPAS), the state of Florida since 2017 has been gathering data to figure out if the problem is one of better optimizing current parking capacity or adding to it.

Rickey Fitzgerald, who manages freight and intermodal operations for the Florida Department of Transportation, told the panel that based on the latest information from TPAS, one potential solution to the problem is to leverage federal and state grant funding to “implement truck parking solutions,” as well as to include truck parking as an “eligible project type” under state highway capacity improvement programs.

The ATA and the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) both support direct public funding for expanding truck parking and are lobbying Congress to include funding — potentially through a grant program — as part of the reauthorization of the federal highway bill, known as the FAST Act.

“I certainly think that’s the vehicle in which this type of funding needs to happen,” said OOIDA Director of Federal Affairs Jay Grimes, speaking with FreightWaves after the panel. “We’re having discussions with the committees on Capitol Hill, and we’re optimistic there will be something included in the reauthorization, if Congress is able to pass it this year.”

Grimes added that results of the latest Jason’s Law survey, a Federal Highway Administration survey of truck parking availability among states, will be due out within the next several months, the results of which “we can build off and hopefully use to help inform” the reauthorization legislation, he said.

NATSO (formerly the National Association of Truck Stop Operators), which represents truck stops and travel plazas, has been less supportive of a public fix to the problem. NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings emphasized the need for carriers to take on more responsibility for their drivers and their trucks.

“We use the analogy that we wouldn’t expect the government to pay for a hotel room for a pilot; why do we expect the government to pay for a truck parking space?” she told attendees. She acknowledged that while the trucking industry is operating on thin profit margins, “it’s a business, and [overnight parking] is a cost of doing business. We have to start looking at creating incentives for the trucking industry to start paying for this.”