States and Feds explore solutions to truck parking shortfall

By Michael Brenneis

Federally mandated driver rest periods are coming up against a truck parking shortfall, and leaving drivers scrambling to find legal parking, or park illegally.

The trucking industry has grown over the last few decades due to overall economic growth and deregulation. One of the challenges facing the industry is a lack of truck parking. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hours-of-service rules (HOS) generally mandate periods of continuous rest—10 hours in most cases—and limit the number of consecutive hours of driving, in order to reduce the possibility of crashes due to driver fatigue. A study of highway crashes in proximity to rest areas has shown that the number of fatigue-related crashes among commercial drivers diminishes within 20 miles of rest areas, but increases beyond that distance.

When drivers need to rest, but cannot find suitable parking, they may choose to park in unsafe or illegal locations such as roadway shoulders or entrance and exit ramps.

A 2016 survey by the Nevada DOT found that 31.8 percent of responding drivers had parked in an unauthorized location, with 16.7 percent doing so often. Parking search times were found to be longer than 15 minutes for 89.5 percent of respondents while 14.9 percent reported searching for more than an hour.

A 2016 truck driver behavior survey by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that parking in urban or suburban areas tends to be more problematic than in rural areas. Twenty-six percent of respondents indicated that they park in unauthorized locations in urban areas, 21 percent in suburban areas. In general, 90 percent of drivers will park in an unauthorized location, with 48.7 percent doing so three or more times per week.

Truck parking demand exceeds the available supply in many public rest areas and private truck stops along the National Highway System, but public and private interests can be at odds when parking facilities are being sited, expanded, constructed, maintained, or regulated.

The National Coalition on Truck Parking makes several recommendations to combat the parking problem. Public land in the rights-of-way, brownfields, or construction staging areas may be suitable for redevelopment as truck parking. Facilities such as weigh stations, ports of entry, or carpool lots may provide parking when not being used for their primary purpose.

State parking limits and operating procedures could be changed to accommodate more truck parking. Many public rest areas do not permit trucks to remain for up to 10 hours. The parking capacity of public rest areas could be increased by changing their design to accommodate the needs of more and larger trucks. The trucking industry could coordinate more with shippers and receivers to use parking capacity at industrial sites.

Coordination with state DOTs may help drivers who need parking unexpectedly, or in unusual locations, due to congestion or weather-related delays, in order to comply with HOS rules. And coordination with state and Metropolitan Planning Organizations is becoming more necessary as demand causes parking to spill into local roadways.

Funding for expanded or new facilities could come from a dedicated trust fund from an existing federal tax, or a municipal sales tax, where allowed. Parking could be pooled in industrial areas with concentrated destinations. Public-private partnerships could be developed such as in Fernley, NV, where NDOT is developing a parking facility adjacent to a commercial truck stop. Parking fees, although widely unpopular, could be used to fund increased capacity especially in urban areas where demand is high.

Pilot projects have been conducted in Tennessee, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida to disseminate real-time parking availability to drivers at highway rest stops or private truck stops via road signs or online resources. Eight Midwestern states are implementing a regional Truck Parking Information and Management System funded with a TIGER grant.

Truckers will seek out convenient locations with desired amenities where they can expect to find parking. Proximity to their route or destination is listed by 96.5 percent of drivers as the most important factor. The availability of restrooms or showers is listed by 79.8, and 75.5 percent list expected parking availability as most important. Drivers show a preference for private truck stops, perhaps due to their amenities, at 71.4 percent, versus public rest areas at 9.9 percent, according to the ATRI survey. This information may help states develop strategies as they work to increase their truck parking supply.