The trucking industry is on fire, in a good way. Freight rates are the highest they have been in recent history, the Outbound Tender Volume Index is on the precipice of breaking new records, and new truck sales numbers just keep growing. All of these individually are great, but combined they bring forth a new problem: a growing need for places to stop all of the trucks traveling on the road.
Truck parking has been a problem for well over a decade. In March of 2009, truck driver Jason Rivenburg needed a place to park his truck for the night, and the only parking he could find was at an abandoned gas station. A career felon named Willie Pelzer saw the isolated truck, and shot Jason dead to steal the seven dollars in his wallet. Wille Pelzer is now serving a life sentence in prison.
His widowed wife Hope, now the single mother of three, talked with her representative to increase spending for more truck parking spaces. Three years after Rivenburg’s untimely death, Jason’s Law passed. It allocates around $100 million for the increase of parking spaces nationwide, after the Department of Transportation surveys where easy and good expansion can occur.
Government is very good at being slow, however, and in the eight years since Jason’s Law became official, public parking space numbers have grown a meager six percent. Private parking spaces have grown 11% in the same period, but combined the two are not enough to match the rising demand.
The problem will only become worse as governments and industry stakeholders fail to keep up: the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) survey results for 2020 put parking as the third biggest issues facing truckers today, considered almost twice as problematic as COVID-19.
There is no magic bullet to solve the parking problem, but there are ways to alleviate the symptoms and avoid catastrophes like what happened to Jason Rivenburg.
The more trucks that pass an empty parking space, the more likely it is to eventually be used. As such, it makes sense to apply funding to create parking spaces alongside highways and other roads that receive more traffic, as well as in states that are traveled within more often. The Department of Transportation found these results in 2019:
The thickness of the lines indicates total trucks traveling each day, whereas state colors determine the density of vehicle miles traveled in the state versus number of parking spaces.
Using this data, the Department of Transportation should add more truck parking spaces alongside Interstate 5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. But there is more to it than that: Texas might be a green shade, but green-shaded states are also somewhat underserved in terms of parking and states such as Colorado and Florida would be well served to have more parking spaces while other states such as North Dakota can afford to be left alone.
The Department of Transportation can also be bothered to have its current parking spaces used more efficiently by drivers. To fulfill off-duty breaks, a parking spot can serve between two and three people each day. Were the DOT to create a phone app that allows truckers to reserve spots ahead of time for a specific amount of time, truckers could travel with ease knowing they have a safe place to rest dead ahead.
The trucking industry continues to grow and shows signs of increasing growth speed, not slowing down. Current attempts to increase the pool of available parking spaces have been unable to outpace the industry, and as such the problem has only become worse over the years.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit its full stride, the House of Representatives was debating the “Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act”, which, were it to pass, would have allocated around $755 million of taxpayer spending to increase parking capacity nationwide. Hopefully once the pandemic passes and things go back to normal, Congress will not have forgotten about their attempts to pass this bill into law.