The Parking Zone – March 2020

March 31, 2020

Tyson Fisher

|

New reports regarding local truck parking are too numerous and small in scope to report on individually. However, what each of these news items means to the underlying national problem is too significant to ignore. Below is a roundup of the latest truck parking-related news items from across the United States, ranging from proposed legislation regarding fines to new truck stops.

Wow. March was one heck of a month for truck parking, wasn’t it? Accordingly, this edition of The Parking Zone is going to be a little different than others. Between COVID-19 and a truck parking bill introduced in the House of Representatives, there is a lot to unpack.

COVID-19 and state-owned truck parking

We learned a lot from this pandemic, including reinforcing stuff we already knew. For example, the health and safety needs of truckers are often overlooked.

That was highlighted when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation initially shut down all 30 of its rest areas in response to COVID-19. Due to the reaction from the general public, truckers were working harder than ever before, making a rest area closure extremely ill-advised. Truck parking is already a problem, especially in a state with a critical freight corridor. To exacerbate that problem during a time when the nation needs truckers the most is jaw-dropping.

Fortunately, PennDOT came to its senses and slowly reopened all but two rest areas. A concerted effort by OOIDA and its membership played a key role in getting the thoughtless decision reversed.

In fact, many states like Pennsylvania screwed up so badly when it comes to truck parking that the federal government had to scold them. The Federal Highway Administration sent a letter to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, urging state transportation officials to keep rest areas open. To be fair, most states left rest areas open for truck parking. However, many of those states also closed the indoor facilities at welcome centers.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. With the exception of closures of some indoor facilities (not including rest rooms), the vast majority of states kept their rest areas open for truck parking. In fact, the Colorado Department of Transportation is expanding truck parking at two rest areas, according to The Journal.

COVID-19 and private industry truck parking

Truckers have never really relied on the state or federal governments to adequately deal with truck parking. That has been left to the private truck stops that own more than 90% of the truck parking spaces across the nation. The Big Three truck stops – Love’s Travel Stops, Pilot Flying J and TravelCenters of America – showed up in a big way.

To start, all truck stops were at the mercy of state executive orders. Most of those orders prohibited in-dining services. With that said, truck stops across the nation worked with what they had to ensure truckers were adequately fed and provided parking.

Love’s made sure its on-site staff was taken care during a time when many people are afraid to go out, let alone go to work. According to a Love’s new release, all hourly store employees received a $100 bonus. Love’s also gave a $2/hour pay increase for all hourly store employees and provided free meals while they worked.

“Unprecedented times means unprecedented measures and that’s what Love’s is doing as a company,” Love’s President Shane Wharton said in a statement. “The fantastic work of our store teams deserves to be rewarded. It is our mission to serve those professional drivers who are a part of getting America’s vital goods, including medical and food supplies, delivered throughout the country.”

As of publication, Pilot Flying J is reporting that all locations and restaurants are open and ready to serve drivers. Certain restaurants closed for overnight hours only. However, those restaurant overnight closures are at travel centers locations that have an additional food choice for drivers, which will remain open.

According to PFJ’s website:

  • All stores open. As always, stores are subject to periodic service interruptions based on local circumstances.
  • Open stores fueling gas, diesel, and DEF.
  • All self-serve food stations, including roller grills and soup stations are closed. Pre-packaged deli food is available for purchase.
  • Showers at all locations are open.
  • All dining room seating in our travel centers and operated quick-service restaurants is closed.
  • All driver lounges are closed.
  • Game rooms are closed in Illinois, Nevada and Louisiana.

TravelCenters of America is also making sure that truckers are being taken care of while continuing to be the backbone of the economy during the pandemic. According to its website, all fuel lanes are open, with no fuel rationing. Also, the company is increasing the cleaning frequency of fuel pumps and pin pads. Furthermore, showers are open and drivers can still reserve showers through the app. Employees continue to use the highest-quality chemicals when cleaning each shower. All truck parking remains in effect, including Reserve-It parking.

“Thank you for continuing to allow us to serve you as we navigate through this unprecedented time together,” TravelCenters said in a statement. “The decisions we make are with your health and safety at top of mind. We will continue to provide updates on our COVID-19 response page. Thank you for your continued service – we appreciate all you do to keep our economy moving.”

Truck parking bill

Talk about timing. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit critical mass, Reps. Mike Bost, R-Ill., and Angie Craig, D-Minn., introduced HR6104, the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act.

HR6104 would set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to add more truck parking capacity. According to the bill, the money will come off the top of four separate safety programs prior to funding being apportioned to states.

What separates this bill from Jason’s Law is the fact it explicitly creates new truck parking capacity only. No surveys, no studies and no technology tracking spaces.

One very important provision that all funded projects must adhere to: no fees can be charged for a truck to access and park at any part of the facility constructed with the grant money. No fees can be charged for a truck to access and park at any part of the facility constructed with the grant money.

If any members of Congress were questioning the need for this bill when it was introduced, they should feel more comfortable backing it now. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that there is a tremendous lack of truck parking available. Most people never notice it. However, now that the trucking industry is in the spotlight, the realities of the job are becoming apparent to the general public and lawmakers. After all truckers are doing during this unprecedented time of peril, the least the federal government can do is thank them by passing this bill and having President Donald Trump sign it into law.

Road rumors

Even in the course of normal business, road rumors pop up all time. That is doubly true during events like the COVID-19 pandemic. Is NYPD’s 66th precinct towing parked trucks? Yes, but those truckers were given a three-hour warning. Furthermore, the trucks “did not have trailers connected and the license plates attached did not match the registrations,” the NYPD told Land Line.

The problem with social media is the lack of context. Below is a great example. Perhaps many of you saw this Facebook post recently:

Truck parking incident in Newport News, Va.

With more than 4,000 comments and nearly 40,000 shares, the Newport News Police Department in Virginia was bombarded with criticism. Newport News Chief of Police Steve Drew spoke to Land Line about the incident. Apparently, there is a lot more to the story.

First, according to Chief Drew, the company this driver works for has been told multiple times not to park in that lot. Coworkers backed up the chief’s claim. The driver should have known.

Second, when police approached the driver to have him move, Drew said that body cams confirm that the driver was belligerent, calling the officers “a**holes” among other things. Officers told the man to calm down. He did not. Officers threatened to arrest him for trespassing after that.

Third, in an effort to deescalate the situation and help the driver, officers told him that he can park in an empty lot just a few hundred yards down the road. Officers told the driver they have no reason to bother him there.

Fourth, the police department did not happen to see a parked truck and decide to harass him. Rather, property owners called in a complaint. Officers were just doing their job while offering some advice on where to park.

Fifth, the Newport News Police Department completely supports the trucking industry. Drew told Land Line that if he could open the department’s parking lot for truckers, he absolutely would. Check out this Facebook live video from the chief that was posted before this parking incident. At about the 43-minute mark, he praises truckers for bringing in supplies:

 

Chief Drew is remaining classy throughout this ordeal. He refuses to release the name of the driver or the company out of respect. According to Drew, it is embarrassing to the driver and not fair to him. That’s class. Let’s all remember that we may not be seeing the whole story or both sides when it comes to social media.

Pilot Flying J
Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.