Natso pitch to solve truck parking problem a swing and a miss

February 18, 2019

Jami Jones

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There are statements that pop up on occasion about the current state of trucking that just can’t be given a free pass. Be it that they are tone deaf to the plight of truckers or just outright wrong. They simply need revisited and dissected.

Natso’s CEO Lisa Mullings uttered such a statement in early February at the Natso annual convention in Florida. In her remarks, she touched on the truck parking problem.

“I can guarantee you, the truck parking issue would be gone if people were willing to pay for it,” Mullings said, according to an article by Transportation Nation.

It’s patently wrong, and it needs called out as such.

Let’s break down the Natso claim.

“I can guarantee you.” No, she can’t. Here’s why. There aren’t enough parking spaces in many areas, paid or free. By simply paying, we don’t hit a Harry Potter magic portal of more truck parking spaces.

“… the trucking parking issue would be gone …” No, it won’t. Not just because people are willing to pay for reserved parking. But, let’s unpack this one a bit further.

We’ll operate on the premise that she is implying that truck stops would re-invest the windfall profits from parking into more truck stops and expanded parking. To some extent that would likely be partially true.

Major truck stops chains are adding more spaces annually, and we need to give them props for that. But it’s not that easy to add parking or building a new truck stop. Between zoning regulations, environmental studies and the very present “not-in-my-backyard, or NIMBY, crowd,” truck stops face major challenges when expanding and building new properties. Again, they try and do succeed, but not at any meaningful pace to resolve the truck parking problem anytime soon.

This is where Natso doesn’t get it.

“…if people were willing to pay for it.” This portion of the comment gets filed under “tone deaf” or “obtuse” if you’re not feeling at all charitable.

Truckers do pay for parking already. They pay for it through fuel taxes. They pay more than their fair share in taxes and tolls that supposedly are for infrastructure. That should be enough to see how wrong that portion of the statement is, but let’s go ahead and talk about the perception of the rolling piggy banks.

There are more frivolous fees and taxes and tolls that only truckers pay. It’s really been out of hand for a long time, and it’s not getting any better. Port truckers are now facing street turn fees for something that makes ports operate more efficiently. But it’s a new-found profit for the shipping companies. Rhode Island is tolling only trucks. Don’t even get me started on UCR fees.

Another justification for the fees is a new study that claims truckers lose $4,600 because of looking for spaces. That doesn’t work for me either. Even at $20 a spot, you get to park 230 times before any gains in “efficiency” are lost.

The thinking of, “they can pass on the cost to the shipper/receiver” is noble. It’s just not reality. The competition keeps rates low and passing on every $20, $40 and $50 cooked up fee is not happening. What those “small fees” are doing is nickel and diming small motor carriers and drivers to economic death.

There’s more than one solution.

The fact that Mullings presented fees as the end-all, be-all solution is maddening. Here’s another potential partial solution to the truck parking crunch – commercialization of rest areas.

The gist of the proposal is for the federal government to allow states to lease rest areas to commercial entities. Those businesses would maintain and upkeep the rest areas in turn for right to sell their products at rest areas. Think convenience stores.

Boy, howdy, mention that around a Natso member and you’ll get an earful about how it will put millions of truck stop employees out of a job. That’s a nonstarter for Natso, and they’ll fight it to the death if they must.

But let’s look at it from a different point of view. Competition. They don’t want any. That’s pretty much it. Oh, and another upside is that it makes it even easier to justify charging truckers (who likely just bought $700 to $1,000 worth of fuel) to park because they are the only ones adding any spaces.

I’m not saying that fees are not part of the solution. It’s possible. What I am saying is, it’s most certainly, 100 percent not the only complete solution.

It’s high time that everyone comes together and solve the problem. Waiting on the feds to fund it isn’t working. Fees alone won’t do it. Commercialization would only be a help, not a solution. Apps aren’t cutting it. But, together all these things might, just might, get us started in the right direction.

Jami Jones

Jami Jones has been in journalism since 1991 – focused on the trucking industry since 2000. Whether judging Shell SuperRigs or writing hard-hitting analyses, she covers trucking from lug nuts to legislation – always with the trucker in mind.