Finding truck parking is a major concern for drivers nationwide. The widespread problem is nothing new — Jason’s Law, named for Jason Rivenburg, a truck driver who was shot and killed in 2009 after he was forced to park in an unsafe location, was passed in 2012. While the law requires routine evaluation of truck parking by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), drivers are continually forced to pull over whenever and wherever they can for rest. From 2015 to 2019, Ohio had 106 wrecks involving a truck parked in an undesignated area, leading to five deaths, 11 serious injuries and 36 minor or possible injuries.
The problem, exacerbated by e-commerce growth, municipal mandates and a lack of dedicated parking funding, particularly in urban areas, affects everything from driver safety and satisfaction to cargo security. Industry experts suggest a mix of public and private investments, creative solutions from shippers and increased use of technology will help reduce parking challenges. USDOT cites truck parking shortages as a national safety concern, noting the importance for access to safe and accessible truck parking for commercial drivers.
Many factors contribute to the unsafe conditions the nation’s freight drivers routinely battle, making it difficult to pinpoint the main cause. According to USDOT, projected growth of truck traffic on the national highway system, limitations for facility owners attempting to expand existing parking sites, severe shortage of parking for trucks, lack of information on truck parking opportunities, and challenges due to limited delivery windows and specific rest requirements all contribute to the truck parking crisis. Headed by USDOT, the National Coalition on Truck Parking works to combat truck parking hindrances by connecting stakeholders from transportation organizations, the freight industry, the public sector and other groups to advance safer parking opportunities for trucks through:
- National and regional collaboration to identify opportunities and solutions for truck parking needs;
- Data sharing and developing new analyses to understand the needs and trends today; and
- Encouraging partnerships among stakeholders to implement solutions.
According to the 2022 Ohio Truck Parking Study, the state’s public and private truck parking inventory includes 14,212 spaces across 273 truck parking locations. Public truck parking locations comprise 19 percent of the entire truck parking landscape in Ohio across 98 locations with about 28 spaces per location. A little more than half of all spaces are provided at 14 locations managed by the Ohio Turnpike, larger facilities providing 100 truck parking spaces on average and offering amenities like fuel and restaurants.
In contrast, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) offers rest areas with a more limited set of amenities, like restroom, lighting and vending machines, across its 84 locations and 1,302 spaces in Ohio. These are largely concentrated along the interstate system, though some are scattered along U.S. highways and state routes. The private sector provides about 4.3 truck parking spaces for each public space and nearly twice the number of locations, with 175 locations and 11,510 spaces. Nearly 72 percent of private truck parking spaces are located at a Pilot/Flying J, TA/Petro or Love’s truck stop. Love’s most recently added 70 truck parking spaces in 2022, as well as showers, laundry facilities, a dog park and more amenities to its 13,000-square-foot North Canton location.
Many hoped the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act President Joe Biden signed in 2021 would provide parking funding with $1 billion in funds allocated initially, but when the bill passed it didn’t include specific truck parking funding. The simplest solution, on the surface, would be to add more parking spaces at the existing truck stops or new builds, but planning for and implementing that solution is nearly always accompanied by opposition for a number of reasons — including opposition from residents, local zoning ordinances that restrict private organizations from adding parking capacity, difficulty obtaining permits necessary to ensure construction or providing tax benefits to encourage the private sector to invest in truck parking expansion, especially in areas where local zoning obstacles or property values make doing so exceedingly expensive.
The National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) highlights the number of jobs and tax revenues that truck stops, convenience stores, repair shops and restaurants add to the local community to further persuade local governments and residents. While public and environmental factors contribute to parking challenges, economic issues are also considerations. Travel plazas and truck stops provide the vast majority of available truck parking today. NATSO, which represents those business types, said its members are adding parking as they see a demand for it, permitted by land availability and government approval for expansion, but it’s not necessarily an issue that local, state or federal governments can solve alone.
While limited resources pose a real threat to the expansion of rest areas, some drivers argue that funds should be allocated evenly to include accommodations for their role in the industry. Industry experts suggest motor carriers should consider negotiating parking with truck stops when they are entering into fuel contracts. In addition, trucking companies can play a bigger role in helping point their drivers toward adequate parking.
Truck stops report that on average it costs between $5,000 and $10,000 per space to put in new truck parking capacity, and truck drivers reportedly don’t want to pay. According to a 2018 survey referenced on the 2022 Ohio Truck Parking Study, about 58 percent of drivers indicate they would not pay any amount out of pocket for parking. One thing truck drivers can do to keep parking free is to park at the same place they fuel, or at least buy something at the place where they park. Those incentives, in addition to countering community opposition to truck stop expansions and new builds with productive compromises can help combat the shortage and provide safer parking for the nation’s drivers.
AI Assistance The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) released the 2022 Top Truck Bottlenecks List, identifying downtown Cincinnati’s I-71/I-75 intersection, just north of the Brent Spence Bridge along the Ohio River, as the second worst freight bottleneck in the country. A November 2020 fire on the bridge opened discussions from both Ohio and Kentucky officials about the possibility of building a companion bridge close to the 59-year-old structure during its repair. The I-75/I-71 split at I-275 in Cincinnati also made the list ranking No. 71 and another problem area, Cinci’s I-75 at I-74 split, was listed No. 96.
No other Ohio cities appeared on ATRI’s 2022 report. ATRI’s analysis utilized GPS data from 2021 harnessed from more than 1 million heavy-duty trucks and found traffic levels rebounded broadly across the country as Americans returned to the office after the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and consumer demand for goods and services continued to grow amid persistent supply chain woes. For more details, the full report is available at www.truckingresearch.org. States are coming together to understand and improve truck parking conditions with these aggressive truck parking studies. One program Ohio is involved in is the Truck Parking Information Management System (TPIMS).
According to ODOT, Ohio is home to America’s fourth largest interstate system, helping to solidify Ohio’s status as a pivotal point in the global marketplace. Ohio, along with seven other states — Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin — joined efforts to develop a real-time multistate system to help truck drivers, dispatchers and others locate available parking with data displayed on highway signs as they cross state lines. The TPIMS initiative does this by consistently gathering, analyzing and distributing parking data through a common application programming interface — or API.
Each state can also integrate proposed solutions into their existing transportation information systems. Mobile applications are gaining popularity to connect drivers with real-time data as well. Below are a few of highest rated apps for drivers.
- Park My Truck – The Truck Parking Leadership Initiative, composed of the NATSO Foundation, NATSO Inc., the American Trucking Associations and ATRI developed the app based on feedback from professional drivers and allows any parking provider — public or private — to report their parking availability. No special technology besides internet access is required.
- Road Breakers – This paid app enables drivers to access phone data even when in a dead service zone. It can also help find parking locations and users can update general information about sites they’ve visited.
- Truckbubba – This app helps drivers find truck parking while taking user input so information can be updated in real time that can help them predict the next truck stop, rest area or parking area. The app also has features for finding weigh stations and fuel, and can show traffic along their route.
In an industry as essential as trucking where employers are strained by driver shortages, supply chain issues and employee retention, and employees are strained by unsafe working conditions, truck stops, shippers and receivers can go a long way to ease all the various bottlenecks affecting the industry — on and off the road.
Samantha Brown writes for Innovative Publishing