BELLEVILLE, Ont. — In late January, a driver for Elmwood, Ont.-based PHTS Logistics woke up to a ticket on his windshield after parking and sleeping for the night at the 10-Acre Truck Stop in Belleville, Ont. When PHTS president Philip Heard was alerted, he wasn’t impressed.
In Heard’s view, it was an unpleasant way to learn about the new 10-Acre policy of charging for overnight stays.
“It sounds like every trucker parking at the 10-Acre woke up with City of Belleville parking tickets on their windshields,” he says. “These tickets are made out to the truck owners by licence. What a terrible way to treat customers.”
Heard has since discovered that 10-Acre had announced the change with a parking lot sign and notices taped onto cash register counters, and that the $10 overnight parking fee can be applied to breakfast at the truck stop’s restaurant. But he still doesn’t think the fee itself, nor the way it was rolled out, is acceptable.
“I know truck stops and rest centers in the US charge for parking, but it’s gated and secure and there’s value to it,” he says. “But I don’t agree with charging trucks a fee at all because it’s a courtesy to companies and owner-operators for all the (revenue) they provide. It’s a bad precedent and the trucking industry has enough problems. This truck stop owner stands to make $1,000 a night.”
Heard was bothered enough by the fee that the day after receiving the ticket, he immediately banned all PHTS trucks from entering the 10-Acre premises for any purchases or services, including fuel, food, or repairs.
“I have forbidden it,” he says. “This truck stop owner is not going to make a cent from our trucks or drivers. I hope a lot more companies band together and put a stop to this. With the soon-to-be mandated electronic log books, we need more safe places with access to facilities for our drivers to be able to park for their off-duty and sleeper time – but not at an extra cost.”
Truck News made numerous attempts to get comments from the owner of 10-Acre about how the fee was rolled out, why it was put in place and more, but he did not respond.
Toronto Trucking Association president David Moore says as far as he’s aware, the fee is a first in the province. Because the association hasn’t had a board meeting since the fee came into effect, Moore hasn’t yet discussed with his fellow board members whether or not they think it’s a precedent. Moore believes that because the vast majority of drivers parking overnight at a truck stop buy fuel, food and services, parking should be free.
“I understand the 10-Acre perspective of wanting to ensure that their property creates revenue,” he says, “but it does seem a little opportunistic.”
Moore adds that there is a need for more overnight truck parking along Ontario highways. He asserts that “the government has done next to nothing to ensure drivers have a safe and proper free rest.”
NATSO, the American truck stop and travel plaza industry association, president and CEO Lisa Mullings reports that “despite how expensive truck parking is to provide and maintain, professional drivers typically don’t pay to park at a truck stop, whether or not they are customers. Trucking companies rarely ask about truck parking when they are negotiating their diesel fuel contracts with truck stops.”
Mullings says the small number of truck stops that charge for parking in the US typically waive the fee for drivers who make a purchase. This appears to be the case at 10-Acre in Belleville.
“Note that this is different from ‘reserved parking’ or ‘preferred parking,’” Mullings adds, “where drivers pay to reserve a premium space. Allocating spaces in a lot for reserved parking allows professional drivers the choice of paying for a guaranteed, premium space. To draw an analogy, today someone can purchase bottled water at a restaurant or choose free tap water.”
Mullings says places that offer reserved or preferred parking are responding to customer demand, just as any business does when it offers new products or services.
“The truck stop industry is really no different than any other in our free-market society – generally they will increase parking when they believe there is a demand for it. Of course, it isn’t uncommon that government or local opposition thwarts plans to build or expand a truck stop lot, and sometimes a truck stop is simply unable to expand because it is land-locked. Even with these challenges, truck stop operators will find a way to meet their customers’ needs,” Mullings explains.
While conducting other marketing research and feedback, TravelCenters of America (the largest full-service travel center company in the US) discovered another reason that some drivers are willing to reserve paid overnight spots.
“The drivers who wanted this option told us they spent as much as two to three hours looking for parking,” explains Tom Liutkus, senior vice-president of marketing and public relations. “This is akin to hotels that will hold your room for late arrival for a fee. The solution was one that led to greater driver and fleet productivity. Reserve a parking space ahead of time, know that it is available to you and…that means you can keep driving toward your delivery, rather than side to side, looking for truck stop parking.”
Liutkus adds that a recent study published by the American Transportation Research Institute confirms these findings to some extent, with the conclusion that reserved spots allow drivers to typically save about an hour.
TravelCenters of America has the largest parking lots in the industry, an average of 188 spots per site with about 7-8% of them available for reservation for US$12 or $13. This is a separate revenue stream and the fee does not go toward any purchases. Drivers can reserve the spots via on-site kiosks, at the customer service or fuel desks, or using the firm’s TruckSmart app.
“The service is not for everyone,” says Liutkus. “That’s why the vast majority of our parking remains free. Drivers tell us if they are in a tight market or have a ‘can’t be late’ emergency load, they find it of value. Wide loads love the reservable spots because escorts by law must park with the trailer. Many women drivers love the reserved parking because the spots are located closer to the building and they prefer that.”
As for overall industry reaction to 10-Acre’s $10 overnight fee that can be applied towards breakfast, on Feb. 28 Larry Jones, the manager of the Never Enough Chrome shop located on the premises, told us the parking lot volumes have not visibly changed since the fee was put in place about a month earlier.