The Truck Stop Struggles – How An American Staple is Coming Up Short
In the U.S. truck stops are a staple along the stretches of highways and interstates that connect one city to another. There is a problem with these truck stops though that continues to grow and it’s affecting how a well a truck driver can do his job. Are there enough truck stops to cover the amount of drivers on the road? What’s causing parking issues? How does America solve these issues and continue to improve on trucking lifestyle?
In the beginning…
After World War II, the trucking industry took off and with it, truck stops became more prevalent though out the country. More trained truck drivers were now on the road more than ever and there was need to meet these drivers where they were. Enter Bosselman and Eaton Truck Stops. The founder was a farmer and truck driver himself and saw the need, in fact most are still open today. Later in 1956, that need would multiply as President Eisenhower signed the Federal Interstate Highway Act that would build over 41,000 miles of road. As road expanded and created new lanes of travel, truck stops began their progression to the ones we see today. Most in that time offered up home cooked style meals and weren’t much more than a fueling station and a spot to eat. It wasn’t long before the evolution of truck stops began their climb into the larger oil companies.
The trucks stop known today as TA, TravelCenters of America, started in 1972 and were the first of many big chain companies that would start extinguishing the mom-and-pop smaller truck stops as they grew. With larger store fronts and quadrupling the amount of pumps, they became magnets for truckers across the U.S. Other large chains popped up as well and with competition came more players. Where “truck stops” once stood now “travel plazas” now stand. The rebranding of truck stops to travel plazas were to appeal to the general public to gain their business as well.
These days you’ll find that these bigger, shinier truck stops offer chain restaurants, clean multiple showers, shopping centers. Some are even placed strategically around theaters, big box stores and other retail and entertainment locations.
The problems we face today and Jason’s Law…
Especially in the late 90’s, truck stops were depicted as seedy places where rough and tumble crowd would meet, prostitution was prevalent and a central location for crime to take place. In reality, there may have been crime but it was mostly within truck stops within a radius of a major city.
Today truck stops can be the site of illegal gambling, human trafficking and theft but are typically kept clean, well-lit, and have on-site security. Since truck stops are often located in remote or rural areas, it can take longer for first responders to arrive on scene so it’s important that truckers as well as truck stop employees are well versed in how to minimize crime by doing their part. Most truck drivers and workers know to watch their surroundings and report any suspicious activity to management as well as keeping first aid on hand. In a previous blog, we posted about the issue of human trafficking and tips on how truckers can help fight against it, check it out here.
One of the more pressing issues that truckers are facing today is a parking shortage. Though it has been an issue for well over a decade, awareness is just now spreading quicker as truck stop chains struggle to keep up the demand. It has become such an issue that it is speculated as one of the reasons truckers are quitting the industry.
In an article addressing the shortage of truck stops they report:
“Inadequate truck parking over the past several decades is one reason why truckers have left the industry, contributing to the nationwide shortage of roughly 80,000 drivers that has exacerbated global supply chain issues, experts say.
“’The answer is absolutely, yes. It’s one of the top reasons why they are leaving,’ Daniel Murray, senior vice-president of the American Transportation Research Institute, said of the lack of truck parking. ‘When truck parking goes south, they just throw up their hands and say ‘I’m out of here’ and find another job that doesn’t create the stress and anxiety.’”
This issue bleeds over into rest areas and the lack of those as well. Rest areas, or rest stops, are often packed or are in unsafe locations with very little light or poorly kept. Pair this alongside the truck stop shortage and it has easily turned into a trucker nightmare when trying to plan their routes. Many drivers attempt to designate an area down the road that will be easy to go off duty and take their break but there is no guarantee there will be room.
Truckers will often have to find a gravel patch to the side of a road or an empty parking lot just to get their rest and not violated their hours of service in trying to find an open spot. More times than not this is a more dangerous option as they could be considered “sitting ducks” for crime and accidents.
In one case, this nightmare became reality in 2009 on March 7th when Jason Rivenburg was stopped for the night at an abandoned gas station since there were no available rest areas around his drop off location. He was murdered and then robbed, police not finding him till the following day.
A slow, ongoing process…
Out of this tragedy, his wife, Hope, fought mercilessly to get legislation passed in her husband’s name to alleviate the dangers and stress of this shortage that drivers have to face every day. As part as the Highway Restoration Bill in 2012, Jason’s Law was passed and is making progress in creating safer areas for truckers to rest.
In the private sector, Love’s has taken a stand to help mediate the issue. An article from Transportdive.com stated “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.”
Some organizations are taking to the tech world to help solve this problem. In Texas, A&M University teamed up with TxDOT in 2015 to work the problem using sensors and LiDAR technology:
“’We are evaluating two types of sensor technologies to help count and communicate available truck parking spaces,” says Curtis Morgan, lead on the project and manager of TTI’s Multimodal Freight Program. “Because it’s such a pervasive problem, the ultimate goal is to give truckers advanced and accurate notice of available parking spaces.’”
In short, their technology will be the tool behind real-time signs posted outside truck stops so truckers can see the availability immediately instead of circling the truck stop and creating more traffic while also minimizing truck stop fender benders.
It may be confusing to understand that even though there’s a trucker shortage, there’s an even bigger truck stop shortage which is only adding fuel to the fire. According to FleetOwner.com, “Travel plazas account for about 90% of all truck parking spots.” While it’s difficult for even the largest chains to create more parking due to infrastructure related issued and supply chain shortages, the hurdles are even larger for government entities to address and solve.
Florida is the prime problem child of this issue and stands as an example of what needs to happen across the country.
Other states are collaborating with neighboring states to find and work towards an ongoing solution.
“With Arizona leading the way, four western DOTs are partnering to create a long-haul truck driver parking system by 2023, according to a report. The platform that Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas are building will track available truck parking at 37 public rest areas and 550 parking spaces in those states along I-10, the fourth longest interstate in the U.S.”
The truck stop shortage will likely always be an uphill battle as the supply can’t keep up with sheer demand that comes with economic booms over the decades. This issue has been at the top of the list for many decades and worsens as online shopping becomes the main player for world-wide commerce.
Drivers are often shortening their driving day by making calculated decisions to budget more than an hour or two to finding a parking spot at the end of their day. This can cause shipping times to expand and slowing down the transit of goods, increasing the choke on the already aching supply chain issues.
“’The supply chain clog will not unclog until drivers are able to utilize their whole 11-hour drive time driving, not driving around in circles, fighting for the next parking spot or stopping early so they can maybe count on a spot,’ Merry Leach, a driver from Niota, Illinois, told transportation officials last month. ‘Adding truckers to fill the ‘driver shortage’ is only going to make the situation worse, like adding players to a game of musical chairs without adding chairs.’”
We don’t want to leave you guys hanging without offering some sort of offering to help alleviate this pain in the neck. You drivers may already know the trick of the trade when it comes to finding a parking spot but we will go ahead and share our findings with those that may be less-seasoned.
Location, location, location…and timing. These two are the primary deciding factors when getting ready to shut down for the day. The best rule of thumb is if you’re going into a region that you know will be packed, aim to get in as early as you realistically can. Some drivers even choose night routes purely because of this reason.
Utilize the technology at your disposal. There is a slew of applications for your phone that you can download to help you in finding much needed parking. Most applications are communities of truckers all over the country that report on decent and safe parking as well as report in real time what is available and where. You can find a list of the best ones here.
You can also play it fancy and reserve a spot ahead of time. Some truck stops give truckers the option to reserve their spot ahead of time as long as they are willing to pay, and more times than not, out of their own pocket. You can find more pointers in this article.
As more awareness to this issue spreads to the mainstream, companies and government entities alike are slowly increasing their efforts to create solutions for truck stop parking and rest area parking that can beneficial for everyone.