ATRI survey highlights trucking concerns

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Sure, it’s a study looking at trucking in the U.S., but I think the American Transportation Research Institute’s latest Top Industry Issues survey has relevance here too. Not least because truck parking hit the Number 1 spot among the Top 10 concerns of drivers and owner-operators, as I’m pretty sure it would for Canadians at the wheel. For a change, it also appeared on the list of biggest concerns for carriers, albeit down in 10th place. I’m a little concerned about what that implies – namely that fleets may not understand driver issues well enough. Or at least don’t worry about them as much as they might. Granted, that may be an uncharitable view because at least parking made the list.

Similarly, and predictably, detention time and delays at customer facilities ranked fourth among drivers and owner-ops, but only 9th for carriers.

Speed limiters made the list on the driver side in a solid 5th place, in anticipation of a rulemaking next year. This issue has made the driver list for a few years, long before it was a topic of real concern south of the border, presumably because many Americans have experienced turtle racing here in Ontario and Quebec.

(Photo: istock)

It was the 18th Top Issues report from ATRI, the not-for-profit research arm of the American Trucking Associations. Some 47% of the survey respondents were truck drivers and 39% were carrier managers and executives, the remainder a mix of other industry players like trainers and enforcement folks. Some 4,200 respondents took part in the survey, which was open between September 6 and October 7 of this year.

It worked this way: with advisory help, ATRI devised a list of 28 critical issues and then asked respondents to select their top three choices in order. An issue ranked as most important received three points, second got two points, and the one ranked third got one point. The Top 10 list was created using a simple formula that assigned those weighted values to the rankings. Participants were also asked to rank their top three preferred corrective strategies to deal with each selected issue.

Given that weighted ranking system, fuel prices took first place overall for the industry at large, though it was only the second biggest concern amongst drivers and owner-operators and third amongst fleet people. Obviously, that issue got a lot of second- and third-place votes.

If you just look at the issues that took first-place votes, things look different, and frankly I think this might make a better indicator of where attention should be paid.

For the steering-wheel crowd, the top three concerns were: truck parking, fuel prices, and compensation. But for carriers, top spot was given to the ‘driver shortage’ followed by driver retention and fuel prices. I’ve put the driver shortage in inverted commas because, as we all know, what that really indicates is a shortage of people willing and able to do an increasingly difficult job. Or, as well, perhaps a lack of drivers who can pass a drug test or who don’t have a criminal record because they got caught smoking weed 20 years ago, etc.

But let’s go back to parking, because I’m utterly infuriated – and have been for a long time – that drivers have to deal with rigidly controlled hours of service while being unable to find safe parking when they need to shut down. It verges on the criminal, and it’s certainly a cruel reality. Yet nothing of any consequence is being done about it here in Canada, though some action is being taken in the U.S., albeit too slowly.

ATRI did a unique survey on the parking issue back in 2016 in which it had 600 drivers keep a diary of their time spent searching for a safe place to park over the course of two weeks. It found that drivers sacrificed an average of 56 minutes of revenue drive time every day, just looking for parking. That represented a productivity reduction of 9,300 revenue-earning miles a year. Do your own math to figure out what that means in annual lost wages. Easily $5,000.

We didn’t have electronic logging devices back then, but ATRI quantified the negative impact that the ELD mandate would likely have. It found that drivers using ELDs were likely to spend over 30 minutes more in looking for available parking than did drivers without an ELD.

And if you tell me that autonomous trucks will fix this, I’ll tell you to get a grip.

Correctly, ATRI says in its 2022 report, “The lack of available parking has been tied to driver recruitment and retention issues as well as efforts to attract more women to the profession.”

Ya think?

The top strategy proposed by survey respondents was “to encourage local and regional governments to reduce the regulatory burdens limiting the construction and expansion of truck parking facilities.”

That makes sense here in Canada too, obviously, but I think an easier and quicker way to take at least some of the pressure off is to convince the shipper/receiver crowd to take pity on  poor truck drivers and let them park at customer facilities when the need arises and space exists.

Whatever it is that we do, we’d better do it quickly. The problem isn’t going to disappear.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to

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