Should trucking be paying for parking?

Jim Park

There’s no easy answer to the truck parking crisis, but I’m sure there’s a better answer than forcing drivers to choose between paying to park their boss’ truck or sleeping on a freeway on-ramp. In many parts of Canada and the U.S. there is insufficient parking available to meet demand. There are many reasons for that but mostly it’s because there’s no money to be made in truck parking.

If you go to the airport, you pay to park your car. Go to a baseball game and you pay to park your car. Go to the mall or the grocery story and the parking is usually free. Why the different approaches to parking? At some locations, someone has invested a lot of money to build that parking lot and they have a reasonable expectation of earning a profit from the people using that facility. In other cases, like at the mall, it’s assumed that if you park there, you’ll be spending money there, so the free parking is a cost the developers incur as a means of attracting paying customers.

truck parking
It’s hard to view truck parking as anything but a cost of doing business for long-haul fleets, not different really from buying or repairing tires, replacing headlights and all the other costs associated with operating trucks. (Photo: Jim Park)

There’s an interesting story behind how we came to have “free” parking at truck stops.

Almost 20 years ago, Fred Kirschner — then the operator of a 30-acre, 285-space TA/Petro Stopping Center near Scranton, Pennsylvania — explained to me that when longhaul trucking was still in its infancy in the 1960s, trucks typically stayed close to their home terminals and didn’t buy a lot of fuel on the road. But as the longhaul sector grew, and routes expanded, drivers started buying fuel from independent fuel retailers. Soon, diners and other facilities that catered to truck drivers began springing up close to those fuel retailers.

Seeing an opportunity, the oil companies began bringing all the services that drivers needed in house and under single ownership. Kirschner said it was drivers, at the time, who decided where to buy fuel, so truck stop operators began adding amenities to earn the drivers’ business such as repair shops, paved parking, truck washes, free showers, etc.

Over time, the big truck stops lost their monopoly on fuel to the discount fuel outlets, many of them built on a fraction of the acreage the big places occupied. They had lower overhead so could afford to sell fuel at lower prices. Fleets then began directing drivers to fuel at the discount locations, seemingly without regard for the fact the discount places offered few additional services for drivers, like sit-down restaurants, showers or even parking.

Not surprisingly, the parking lots at the big truck stops remained full, but the fuel lanes and the restaurants were like ghost towns. The showers were no longer free and restaurant prices went up because they were no longer subsidized by fuel sales.

It was a little different in Canada, but the result was the same. With the introduction of card-lock fueling and discounts negotiated at the corporate level, the few independent truck stops we had here folded. A few independent chains hung on for a while, but the services declined, the parking lots languished and they too eventually folded.

We still have many high-quality, driver-oriented truck stops or travel centers in Canada, but nowhere near enough of them — and nowhere near enough parking, especially in areas where it’s desperately needed, like any major city.

Free parking is simply no longer sustainable. Just imagine the cost of developing a 10-acre site in Mississauga or Burnaby or Dorval.

truck parking
Complaints about lot conditions are common, but who will pay a million dollars to resurface 20 acres of blacktop without a suitable return on the investment? (Photo: Jim Park)

The cost of free parking

The owner of a mid-sized truck stop in rural New Brunswick told me some time back that each of the parking spots on his lot cost about $15,000 to develop, with permits, clearing and paving. His annual lot maintenance and snow removal costs ran about $75,000 about a decade ago. He says refuse services for the facility were close to $30,000 a year, and then there’s lighting, sewage and property taxes on top of it all. Given its location, that site would have been a relatively inexpensive to develop. The cost of developing a similar site near Dixie Road and Hwy. 401 in Mississauga would be orders of magnitude higher today.

Is it any wonder that we haven’t seen a new truck stop built anywhere close to an urban area—where they are really needed–in the past 20 or 30 years?

So, who should pay for all this much-needed parking?

It’s hard to view truck parking as anything but a cost of doing business for long-haul fleets, not different really from buying or repairing tires, replacing headlights and all the other costs associated with operating trucks. Truck fleets once paid for parking indirectly through marked-up fuel prices at the full-service truck stops. But discount fuel pricing and card-lock contracts didn’t leave the fuel retailers much margin upon which to develop or expand their parking facilities, so they stopped building big parking lots.

We are seeing more truck stops in the U.S. charging for parking now, and that’s really the only option we have. Most fleets, I think, reimburse drivers for those charges, but I’ve heard some drivers say if the decision to park at a certain location is discretionary, the charges are often not reimbursed.

To solve this, trucking will have to acknowledge that parking is part of the cost of moving a load across the country and get used to paying for it. The rates should reflect the parking costs, like fuel surcharges reflect the price of fuel. It’s the shipper that ultimately ought to pay for the overnight storage for the truck on which their loads are transported, the same way they ultimately pay for tires and headlights and all the other costs associated with operating trucks – it needs to be built into the rate.

In that conversation I had with Fred Kirschner back in 2003, he warned that fleets concerned about parking spaces for their trucks had better start thinking about building terminals or banding together to build terminals, because the truck stop chains aren’t going to build where the trucking companies want them to build. “It’s just too expensive, and you can’t get the permits anymore,” he said almost 20 years ago.

 

 

Jim Park

Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and Trucknews.com, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

Have your say

We won't publish or share your data

*

  • I have seen a lot of fueling places ask if you have their card now. If you don’t you have to move on. The cities are a big problem because locals don’t park their trucks at a “shop” they park and go home, as in downtown Annacis Island in Vancouver. They have spots saved that locals have paid for and if you don’t get there and get a spot out of the 3 or 4 left you are hooped. Now that may be good for them, but as a long hauler you are pooched when it comes to finding a spot where it would be convenient. It seems a little daunting to have to own 4 or 5 fuel cards just to park and have a sleep. If they do start charging for parking it would be nice to have a spot where reefers park by themselves, and the ones who actually shut their truck off at night can get a decent nights sleep instead of having one of those running all night by a open window.

  • The more this comes down to having to pay for parking then it should land on the shoulders of
    Owners of the trucking companies,in turn let them fight out costs with their customers.
    By no way should this cost be a cost responsible to have absorb which will add up over a week on the road.
    These men and women already absorb too many freebies in this industry.

  • Trucking needs to pay for parking in major cities like the G T A and Vancouver. The Federal gov in Ontario the Ford gov need to work with the C T A to build a total of 19 parking locations of 300 plus parking spots for tractor and trailer units per location plus 40 drop trailer spots plus 20 Bob tail spots with 40 spots for straight trucks and and bus R V sports. The O T A and the Ont gov know in Ontario treatment of sick and injured truck drivers is related to lack of parking with showers a spot for treatment and to soak their feet for people like myself with trench foot. The fees should be set at at 20 dollars for 12 hours with the first 3 hours free . These locations should also have where space allows a shop 100 feet by 120 feet including a spot inside parking for a heavy tow truck and rescue truck and 6 hundred foot long repair bays to be run as a co-op repair shop

  • I retired after 50 yrs. in the trucking industry always a company driver with only 3 major companies, l always stopped as early as l could so l could get parked however as time went by and changes to the log rules then E-logs just magnified the issue of good safe parking.l have only been retired for 18 months and l miss the driving over the road but and it’s a big but l should don’t miss the hassle.The industry changed for the good of a driver e-logs satellite dispatching but the driver is still getting bit u know where lol My comments r useable if u wish txs

  • Truck parking is getting harder to find. Paying for it or having purchased fuel is one way. Paying for safe secured parking is the only answer!

  • Wouldn’t have to pay for parking if two things are major. Good food and prices at the truck stops and if the company you haul for or load broker add it to the fees of the buyer.
    The driver should never pay he or she doesn’t make enough money to pay it. The ota and the CTA in Canada shouldn’t put all the burden on the drive the o/o but on shippers and receivers. In the end the consumer will pay.
    Most places you stop now have no running water or flush toilets, unless you go to a truck stop open all night.
    This has been getting worse every year and oh we will fix it that’s like saying the government is going to stop bleeding the poor and middle class it will never happen, as long as I’m alive to see it. After 40 years and still not fix the problem now it drivers just park anywhere even on the side of the interstate or hwy don’t even think of anyone else no lights on.
    This industry is in sorry set of affairs drivers that do it not for the job, but to have a place to live and can stop anytime they like, we did go through a time in the industry where drivers were paid tourist now it paid to hold a steering wheel because the automations has made it so really the truck drives you or causes you to crash either way give the other drivers a bad rap.
    Someone somewhere should actually stand back and look at the real picture not from an office or someone who got a job in the industry but doesn’t drive everyday anymore.
    To all life has changed out here and not for the better.

  • Parking fees are just a part of doing business nowadays to all the whiners, truck drivers have done this to themselves in some cases if you don’t support the truck stops by buying fuel,eating in the restaurants you leave them no choice to recoup costs somehow. Just imagine you offered your services for free with overhead costs how long would you be in business? Not to mention the garbage that slobs leave and you wonder why parking for trucks is problem. I always try to support mom & pop truck stops when I can as the saying goes if you don’t use it you lose it IMO

  • It’s the government should pay they’re the ones that put the fuel prices up so they should take part of that and put towards the parking in these truck stops. There’s no reason that the price of fuel should be up where it is now they’re not paying that for it it’s just a tax on tax and tax so who do you think I think the government should be paying the truck stops

  • I might not mind it if the place has something to offer and I’m staying for 8 hours, but I would hate to have to pay if I’m just stopping for something to eat or a quick cat nap. How can it be enforced?

    Problem now being summer, is the folks with cars and a small trailer of some sort who think they are entitled to take a place for a large truck just because they have a trailer when there’s room for them out in the main parking lot.
    Let’s not forget the entitled folks who stop overnight, pop open the extensions of bigger trailers, taking up 2 truck spots and then fire up a noisy generator.

  • Rest areas with washrooms are needed on all major route in Canada to facilitate safe driving practices and incoming mandatory ELD for transportation industry. Please use fuel tax to put up facilities and other wasteful tax dollars for this necessary infrastructure. Safe roads for everyone.