State governments have been hard at work finding ways to invest in additional parking for truck drivers. Parking for truck drivers is an issue that is consistently at the top of everyone’s mind, yet it rarely gets enough attention as other issues – such as the ELD mandate and truck driver shortage. This is likely why the parking problem has been allowed to fester so long without anyone taking serious action to rectify it.
There are a couple reasons why parking has become such an issue. The trucking industry needs available parking for thousands of truck drivers operating along the nation’s most frequently-used transportation corridors. In many cases, adequate parking is not available. While some states provide free rest areas, the rest are provided at truck stops, either for a fee or free. Either way, it can be quite inconsistent.
The other issue lies in timing. There are limited spaces out there and truck drivers now operate within the timing parameters of their ELD, so they must be able to find parking in a timely manner before risking a shut down or violation.
Although the FMCSA’s recent changes extending personal conveyance provide some relief for truck drivers, it doesn’t really matter what happens on the regulatory level if truck drivers simply don’t have a convenient, safe place to park. All the extra time in the world won’t make any difference if there is nowhere legal to shut down and take a break.
Unfortunately, failure to find a long-term solution puts undue pressure on long-haul truck drivers, who are under the gun of hours of service and already face problems trying to find a safe and comfortable place to take their mandatory rest breaks. There is good news on the horizon, however. It is called the Truck Parking Information Management System (TPIMS).
What is the TPIMS?
The TPIMS is designed to provide data on where truck parking is needed the most and help fill existing capacity. It was launched as a joint project in 2016 by the following eight states:
These states also make up the Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials. Their action in creating TPIMS should create a real-time, free standard for reporting where parking is available and is most needed for future planning efforts. It is the first effort of its kind at this scale and many within the industry are hopeful it will provide some relief for truckers looking for parking.
The program is being initially funded through a U.S. Department of Transportation grant and runs a total cost of over $28 million. It will use a complex system of sensors to constantly monitor available parking at public and private rest areas. Once the information is gathered it will be distributed through a system of signs, mobile device apps, websites, and more. With the system currently being built out, it is expected to go live in January 2019.
While the TPIMS is a complex and extensive project and cover a large swathe of the Midwest, costs did not come in as high as were initially expected. Costs were limited thanks to the limited use of digital signage. Instead, the system will put a heavy reliance on digital dissemination, cycling information through apps or public data feeds that already provide traffic and weather information.
The states involved in the project were given plenty of leeway to decide which roads would have the system deployed on them. Project managers worked out everything down to the very last detail, paying special attention to sensor monitoring, camera usage, and 3D analytics. TPIMS will be designed to be simple, adaptable, scalable, expandable, and easily deployable.
Not A Fix-All
The hope is that TPIMS will be a success and then can be used as a blueprint for other state DOTs to use in developing their own systems. The system will have a plug-and-play modular design that state agencies can use with ease. Florida has already taken the cue and is using the TPIMS model to provide truck drivers in that state with information on where there is available parking.
Still, this doesn’t completely fix the problem. The main problem is not providing an accounting of where the parking is, but rather in a lack of parking. States need to make sure truck parking is efficiently being used and available. Infrastructure projects are needed to build out more parking capacity. More spaces are desperately needed.
While some infrastructure plans seek to address the parking problem by pushing more rest stop buildouts, there isn’t any consistency to the approach. But if TPIMS can increase parking utilization performance measures and provide states with critical data on where funds need to be invested, truckers stand to benefit.
If TPIMS can give states a method for adding truck parking capacity and a proven method for improving the overall movement of interstate freight, increased consistency can provide relief. If cash-strapped states better utilize their resources for a more targeted and effective approach.
While some states within the system are further along than others, the hope is that all states will be ready by January 2019. A soft launch could provide truckers and states with the ability to tap into the data stream before full implementation.
Southwestern States Unite
In other truck parking developments, a coalition of Departments of Transportation from Arizona, California, and New Mexico are looking for their own federal grant to develop a program similar to TPIMS along the Interstate 10 corridor that crosses between the three states.
Called the I-10 Corridor Coalition, the group formed out of a need to create a safer and more efficient parking option for truck drivers operating within their states. The group of states is seeking a $13.7 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration.
The good news is that states are finally taking steps to address the issue. Whether the system under development in Southwestern states ends up looking or behaving like TPIMS remains to be seen, but it is a positive development that so many decision-makers across the states are finally taking this issue seriously.
How the ELD Impacted Parking
The ELD mandate has created some pain and relief, but in the area of trucking it has shined a spotlight on a glaring problem. Whether it be how the hours of service rules no longer adapt to the needs of the modern trucker or excessive detention time – it all relates to truck driver parking.
In a recent survey completed by the American Transportation Research Institute, the lack of available parking once again came in the top five among issues that truckers have the hardest time dealing with. Among truckers specifically, it rose to number two on the list.
When truckers run out of available hours while they are at the shipper or receiver loading or unloading, they are faced with having to park at the shipper or receiver’s location, but that isn’t always possible. With no viable parking options, truckers might be forced to park places where it is either not legal or unsafe.
Truck Stops Raise the Stakes
Since travel areas and rest stops fill up so fast, finding a place close by becomes even more difficult. Parking now should be considered a cost of doing business nowadays. As travel plazas become increasingly crowded, even the truck stops themselves are feeling the heat.
With so many people struggling to find the few available parking spaces, resources and facilities are being stretched thin. It can sometimes be impossible for truckers to find the resources they need at overcrowded truck stops. Parking lots are also suffering more wear and tear, which causes owners to raise their prices. This has a knock-on effect for trucking companies large and small.
In the past truck drivers who had trouble finding a parking place could simply move on to the next truck stop. Those days are hard to come by in the 21st Century. And while truck stops have every right to charge for truckers to park there, if they cannot keep up with the demand, or find themselves having issues providing reliable service, everyone suffers.
A shift in the truck parking paradigm is also pushing truckers to look for parking at mom-and-pop commercial centers, restaurants, or chain parking lots. None of these are preferred options. Trucking companies are attempting to insulate their truckers from the problem by adopting policies of paying for all reserved or paid parking truck drivers pay while they are on the road. Should more companies be doing that?