The COVID-19 epidemic has completely changed many things about life as we know it, and business is no exception. One of the most heavily affected areas is the trucking industry. With most entertainment options closed or limited, many Texan consumers have some wiggle room in their budgets. Add the convenience and safety of delivery to your door, and it’s no surprise the online shopping industry has exploded, leading to an uptick in the amount of delivery trucks on the roads.
But with the economic boom comes a new issue: parking.
Truck drivers have long experienced limitations in making stops. There are 27,300 truck-sized parking spots in the state of Texas, and in 2018, Cambridge Systematics ran a study for the freight advisory committee and concluded that at peak demand (usually overnight), the state operated at 98% capacity for those available truck spots. This leaves little wiggle-room for truck drivers looking for a spot to pull over—leaving many of them without a place to park.
Why Is It So Difficult for Truckers to Find Parking?
The recent implementation of electronic logs over the traditional paper ones has increased pressure. Truck drivers are already operating on a time-crunch, but the use of electronic logs gives them less leeway when deciding on when and where to stop and park. Before electronic logging devices (ELDs) became the new normal, truckers would track their hours manually. Now that the logging is done online, however, they are more strictly bound to the truck-driving service limits set by the federal government. The law states that drivers are allowed to work for 14 hours, up to 11 of which can be spent driving, and that drivers must take a 10-hour break before their next drive. Truck drivers who don’t follow the hourly guidelines are subject to face major fines.
The increase in the number of trucks on the road heightening traffic and slowing drivers down doesn’t help. If deliveries aren’t made on time, the effects on productivity can ripple through multiple industries. Striking a balance between adhering to federal trucking guidelines and keeping up with the delivery expectations of their parent companies has left many truck drivers pressed for time. Many drivers have stated that they have to plan ahead and look for places they can stop online before they start driving in hopes of keeping good time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened this dilemma. Truck drivers already have a more difficult time getting off the freeway, and have to consider bridges and turns before deciding to detour. Add the closure of dine-in options, and truckers are facing serious issues with finding places to stop. Because truckers can’t go through drive-thrus, their meal options are more limited than ever, and many have had to bring their own food to ensure they get to eat while on the job.
Everyday Drivers are at At Risk
The result of all these factors has been a mad dash for drivers to try to snatch up these coveted truck parking spots. Because of the lack of available space and the time constraints they are facing, more and more truck drivers are having to resort to pulling over on the side of the road when making pit-stops and even sleeping there overnight—making them at best, an obstacle, and at worst, a hazard to other drivers.
Another survey done within the previously mentioned parking study showed that half of the commercial motor vehicle drivers interviewed admitted they’ve had to park in unauthorized locations due to service hour limitations. This is dangerous for both truck drivers and other motorists, especially at night when a parked truck can be more difficult for other drivers to see.
More Trucks, More Truck Stops
This trucking boom isn’t expected to slow down any soon. Trucking Industry experts expect the volume of cargo being towed on the road to at least double by 2045 to 2.5 billion tons. Without adding more truck parking, the state’s demand for spots could soon outgrow the supply. The Houston Chronicle reported that three companies—Loves, Pilot/Flying J and TA/Petro—account for about a quarter of the 650 places statewide with truck spots.
90% of truck stops are privately owned parking places including restaurants, commercial centers, and truck stops. Proposals for more government-owned truck stops pushed by trucking industry lobbyists and local officials have been ineffective in increasing government facilities.
Ed Emmett, the chairman of the Texas’ freight advisory committee and fellow in energy and transportation at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, says that the issue is complicated, noting that there will always be pushback when the government tries to build facilities to compete with the private sector.
That said, he acknowledges that the industry is growing and there is a major need that is being unmet. In a few parts of the state, including the city of Houston, private parking is the only available option for truckers, and many of these private parking areas are too small for certain kinds of trucks to easily maneuver in and out of. Increasing truck-spot availability would make things a lot easier on truck drivers, and would help make the roads safer for them as well as the everyday drivers they share them with.