Love's Travel Stops doesn't plan to slow down expansion efforts this year. It anticipates adding 40 locations and 3,000 parking spaces for trucks in 2022 — helping to chip away at one of trucking's most pressing problems.
Parking ranks fifth on the American Transportation Research Institute's 2021 list of critical issues in trucking. For drivers specifically, including owner-operators, parking rises in the rankings to a tie at No. 1.
"There aren't enough appropriate spaces for truck drivers to park and get needed rest breaks," Lewie Pugh, executive vice president at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said in an email. "It's difficult to comply with the federally mandated hours of service regulations. It's a nationwide crisis."
Federal lawmakers have attempted to fund the creation of more truck parking, though such a measure is absent from the infrastructure package. State governments are looking at the issue, as well, while truck stops try to keep up with demand.
"Love's continues to add amenities and services that serve its core customer, the professional truck driver. The company realizes the need for more parking spaces for drivers, and it will continue to add spots to new and existing locations to meet that need," Love's said in a statement.
Whose fault is it anyway?
The Federal Highway Administration's Jason's Law 2019 truck parking survey revealed that the majority of truck stop owners and operators had no plans to increase the number of parking spots. Yet the same survey revealed that 98% of drivers found it difficult to find safe parking.
And a Florida Department of Transportation Parking Study from 2020, for instance, pointed to a current need of 3,400 more spaces statewide, with that number predicted to swell to 4,900 by 2030.
But from the point of view of some parking-space providers, spaces are generally open.
"Our members consistently tell us that they have available parking with some exceptions for certain times of day and in certain geographic areas such as urban areas/outside major cities," said Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman, vice president of public affairs for truck stop and travel center association NATSO.
"It's a nationwide crisis."
Executive Vice President of OOIDA
Companies like NATSO members provide 90% of the available pool of overnight truck parking, Neuman said, adding that members consistently add spaces "whenever they have demand for it."
Still, Neuman admitted that NATSO members face challenges in keeping pace.
It's not uncommon for them to face barriers from state and local governments that keep them from adding spaces, she said. Environmental concerns, zoning issues, permitting restrictions and public concerns can shut down expansion plans.
"Sometimes there isn't real estate available for purchase or the cost of the land is too expensive. This is all especially true on the East Coast and in more urban areas," Neuman said.
With a parking shortage, said Pugh, drivers must depend on some unappealing options to comply with HOS requirements.
"Drivers are forced to park in unsafe or illegal places," he said. "They also waste time trying to find a place to park, which uses up their available hours to work and drive."
Tackling the dearth
While Love's is making a small nationwide dent with its additional 3,000 spots, other entities are also working to tackle the problem.
In the Southwest, state departments of transportation in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have come up with a creative approach: the Truck Parking Availability System.
TPAS is a technology solution meant to prevent drivers from putting themselves in dangerous situations when needing to stop. The state DOTs are working with the federal government on the Interstate 10 corridor, in particular.
TPAS will "detect, monitor and provide" necessary information about empty spots in 37 public rest areas, in real time. Drivers will use in-cab applications, their phones and other information to pull over quickly and safely. The launch date is currently set at 2023.
"Sometimes there isn't real estate available for purchase or the cost of the land is too expensive."
Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman
Vice President of Public Affairs for NATSO
But all state DOTs should promote the economic value of the truck stop and travel plaza industry in the communities where they operate, Neuman added. And there are also measures fleets can take to try to secure parking.
Neuman recommended putting negotiation skills to work for parking, "much in the same manner in which they negotiate fuel contracts," she said. "Truck stops and travel plazas are highly responsive to customer demand."
Taking action to secure parking is important in any environment. But when supply chains are as overwhelmed as they are right now, a dearth of parking can have ripple effects that make the issues worse.
"This is one of the biggest inefficiencies in the supply chain," Pugh said.