The War of the Roads: Act One

Sherwood Park, Alberta

We woke up nose-to-nose with another trucker. In Kansas.

This menage a trucker is a daily dirty dance.

One that many drivers, including me, anticipate will get worse soon.

We were caught in the unsavory tryst on the Kansas Turnpike, which cost us $5 to run, in a Service Plaza. MacGyver pulled in near midnight, snagging one of the last parking spots. But the drivers continued to pour in to take their federally-mandated, ten-hour break from driving. Soon every nook and cranny was jammed. Then drivers started blocking other trucks. I banged on the guy’s window, waking him, to move, so I could leave.

The War of the Roads - Act One

To my Canadian friends, I am not trying to perpetuate the myth that it is always winter in Canada. The photo was taken in early January at the Calgary Flying J on Barlow Trail. Calgary has considerable truck traffic but only a few truck stops with small parking lots. This was our favorite. Across the street from the Deerfoot Inn and Casino.

It happens in places it shouldn’t, like wide open Kansas, and places that you’d expect, like uptight New York and where love, supposedly, washes all, Los Angeles.

I am dreading July 1. That’s the day that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration implements changes to the hours drivers drive to make money — because one thing hasn’t changed, if the wheels ain’t turnin’ we ain’t earnin’ — and when we drive those hours. Among the changes, drivers must take a 30 minute break between hour three and hour eight of driving, we must spend two consecutive periods stopped from 1 am to 5 am in order to get a restart and we can only have one restart per week.

This is trucking on bankers’ hours. Forcing an eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week schedule onto a 24 hour industry and removing driver flexibility to make safe choices.

I fear these changes will put an even greater strain on big truck parking. Think every major city, where the most people requiring the most stuff live, particularly the Northeastern United States, Southern Florida, Southern California, Chicagoland and the Pacific Northwest where parking is short. And in Canada, where virtually everyone lives in Metro Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary and there is almost no parking.

In the five years since we hit the road, and we’re industry veterans now!, the lack of parking has dogged us. And we have had more flexibility in parking because we are a team.

America’s Mother Trucker, Anne Ferro, the head regulator, says she’s putting safety first. But she is putting more drivers, at the same time, for longer periods in the same spot, fighting over fewer parking spaces.

Where she sees safety, I see stress. Faster, angrier drivers, making less money.

But not a peep from regulators, ever, about where we are to park to comply — safely.

The stock of safe, sanitary parking continues to decrease dramatically — even as the number of truckloads on trains increases — particularly Monday-to-Friday because big fleets are moving to regional routes to support the distribution hub model.

Since last summer PilotFlyingJ has been converting a block of big truck parking spaces to Liquified Natural Gas, LNG, pumps. This fuel is used by city dominated fleets, garbage trucks for example, and UPS. It will increase. It’s the big truck fuel of choice in Asia.

I saw the first conversion last summer in Houston, Texas where there is a lack of good parking. If we’re not parked in the TA truckstop in Baytown by mid-to-late afternoon, there is no parking.

In January, in Calgary, Alberta, 20 spots gone. In a city which takes mountains of industrial freight from Texas north to the Oil Sands.

The War of the Roads - Act One

The PilotFlyingJ conversion of parking to LNG pumps continues across the US and Canada. In most places, it eliminates 10 to 20 big truck parking spaces, in a few places, like Central Point, Oregon, it added a few spaces because the parking lot was expanded. But overall, safe, sanitary parking for big trucks in the US and Canada is declining as the number of hours that we must spend in a truck stop is increasing.

And yesterday, knowing that there is a shortage of parking in Edmonton, we pulled into the Flying J in Sherwood Park at noon local time. NOON! There was not one space. We parked on the edge of the fuel island, wedging in a big truck parked on the edge of the future LNG pumps. More spots gone.

Rocco, a driver from Toronto, five years on the road like us, a former owner of a bar and billards parlour, who tired on the oppressive regulation on small business discovered he traded one set of regulations for another in trucking. At 60, he’s running down his retirement clock.

‘Everyone talks,” he says. ”We’re going to do something about the parking. But it’s lip service.” Quacking his fingers together like a duck’s beak.

Pilot Flying J has about 600 outlets in the US, if half of those lose 20 spots, that’s 6,000 spots with access to toilets and showers gone.

It’s their property, they have a right to make the best use of their assets to make a profit. Hell, I want to make a profit, but when I see the parking stock dwindle, I feel sick.

At the same time independent truckstops are closing, unable to provide the fuel discounts that attract the big fleets. Cities and municipalities are restricting parking even though they collect sales and employment taxes on the sale of goods in our consumer economy. And shopping mall parking lots sit empty the entire night. Shippers, who profit handsomely, and consume taxpayer resources in infrastructure, contribute virtually nothing to big truck parking stock.

The TA and Petro started selling a few spots. In congested areas drivers, like Baytown, drivers buy the space. The price increases as the day ends.

Where are the doubles, the trucks pulling two small pup trailers, most notably FedEx Ground, supposed to stop for a half hour break? There is no doubles parking. Drivers can’t back up a vehicle that is articulated twice into a traditional big truck parking spot. They will need to block up two spaces in a truck stop.

Regulators and politicians obviously think it’s best to put the drivers in deserted fields and parking lots, on Interstate ramps and down dirt roads, out of sight, out of mind. A few more beaten or murdered is acceptable because drivers are a dime a dozen they believe. All while they sip morning coffee, in their bathrobes, on chairs, toasting bagels, which all came by big truck.

The best thing that happened to me as a rookie driver in 2008 was $4 plus-a-gallon gas and diesel. Four wheelers and the army of retired RVers stayed at home. There was always room at the Rest Area during the day. Now with the stock market riding high, fuel prices down, I expect the Rest Areas to be jammed this summer with RVers rich enough to drive a million dollar bus pulling a Cadillac, but too cheap to spend $20 to stay in an RV park.

When we started driving, we wanted to stop for three-to-four hours every night so we couid both enjoy non-moving sleep. We quickly discovered this was almost impossible, almost everywhere. At night the trucks are parked in a helter skelter remnants of a tornado fashion. (Act Two will have more about how the  new Hours of Service will affect our driving day.) No room at the Inn.

We split our team shift at 3:00 AM and 3:00 PM, so neither of us have to drive an entire night. We switched drivers at a truck stop fuel island. When we needed a parking space we planned our trips to arrive midday when most solo drivers are on the road.

Trip planning now will be a feat, particularly for teams. What will happen to two-day delivery?

States continue to close Rest Areas. Or try to find a private partnership to take over the cost. But what business wants its parking lot filled up with people who are legally required to sit for ten hours. None.

Providing parking is not cheap. Listening to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio documentary, we learned that car parking spots cost $300 to $400 a year to maintain. But parking is part of the infrastructure that brings all the junk that makes our economy go.

We took a load down I-5 recently to California. We wanted to stop for a few hours, but we had to switch drivers in the middle of the night and keep moving, and thankfully we could, because MacGyver drove 100 miles without finding a place to park. Trucks littered the ramps.

We finally found a space off the road at Pollard Flat to switch because Landstar has a Sitting Duck policy. We are not allowed to park on a ramp or shoulder or even legally on a public road. If we are caught our contract will be canceled.

In my books, the most important safety tool in the driver arsenal is the ability to stop in a safe, secure, sanitary parking place, when I need too. Our trainers at Schneider National told us often: “You always have the option to stop.”

We have found that we don’t.

5 thoughts on “The War of the Roads: Act One

  1. HOLY CRxP!!!!!!!!!!!!! Things sounded bad when you first wrote about the proposed changes to the 'hour of service' rules, but it now seems many time worse! After reading that post I figured that the rules weren't put into effect immediately in order to get more parking available. Best of luck to you two and all of the other drivers!

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  2. I park in the ditch. The bill from the wrecker company to pull you out is cheaper than having your contract cancelled and so long as you don't damage the freight, truck, or trailer, you don't have to fill out a police report or call an insurance company. Maybe I will install a winch on the front of my truck and some giant off road tires and start parking in a field off the highway. Otherwise, you can't tow a vehicle with someone in it. It is easier to park in a parking lot of a store than in some overcrowded truck stop and so long as you are in the truck, they can't tow you or give you a ticket for parking illegally. They can charge you with trespassing, but I have never seen that actually happen. Maybe if you were a repeat offender it might. All I am saying is that you will have to get creative and stay away from the truck stops where the new fresh out of school drivers will be flocking to because they wont be trained to do anything better. -Ed

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  3. Ed — It's the Canadian in me. I like to follow the rules, not be a bother, yada, yada, yada, stick to the truck stop, but we have no choice. I truly fear War of the Roads finding a place to park. The malls with their empty lots at nighttime have signs that say no trucks and security people running around to run you off. June — The solo drivers have it tough already. We have a driver ready to go all the time when we're under load.It will contribute to the new driver churn and the reluctance of some drivers to go to hot spot areas.Gil — None of the rule makers care about parking. Their standard position to drivers is: trip plan better, or a good one from a DOT officer in Virginia a few years ago when they closed almost all of their Rest Areas — stay in a hotel.

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  4. I noticed the shortage of rest areas in Virginia and my Volvo was a car. Massachusetts has closed a lot of rest areas in the past five years or so too. Truck stops have gone out of business. I'd like to see the hotel that has parking for one tractor trailer even if the drivers could afford to pay the room rent!!!!! Good luck.

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