The lack of parking for truck drivers forced to overnight in the Northeast is a bad situation that will not improve anytime soon. If you are starting out in your first truck driving job, do your research and have a solid plan if dispatched on an overnight load along the I-95 corridor from Washington, DC to Boston.
Why is there a Truck Parking Shortage in the Northeast?
Limited truck driver parking is a problem in nearly all metropolitan areas of the country, but nowhere is the situation as serious, widespread, and frustrating as in the northeastern US. The region is, after all, one of the most densely populated areas of the world. The worst stretch of this 400-mile route is thru southern New York and northern New Jersey. The New Jersey Turnpike is infamous for its lack of available truck parking and strict enforcement of illegal parking.
The problem is simple, not enough parking spaces to accommodate the amount of truck drivers that must stop over in the area. Truckers in the Northeast will, at times, find themselves running low on the number of hours they can legally work in a day, but there is no place for them to park and go off-duty for the required ten hours.
Often truck drivers only need a parking spot for a couple of hours, while waiting to be dispatched on the next load, but the truck stops and turnpike service areas are usually full, even in the middle of the day; after 5:00 p.m., finding a parking spot is like winning the CASH 3. Many customers in the region require that trucks leave the property immediately after being loaded or unloaded.
Street parking is sometimes available, but illegal in many areas. Even though parking your truck on private property is a bad idea, and against the policy of most trucking companies, truckers are forced to park in these lots occasionally. Abandoned properties are especially appealing since the likelihood for a complaint is less.
The good news is that the issue is at least being discussed among activist groups, lawmakers, and the DOT. Some attempted solutions may soon be on the horizon so stay informed. The bad news is that this awareness has only come about because of a few high profile cases in which truckers, forced to park in unsafe areas, became the victims of crime.
Tips for Truckers with a Layover in the Northeast
- Plan Ahead: Every successful trip begins with good planning. The timing of pick-ups and deliveries is important to utilize available work hours more efficiently. If possible, schedule your trip to avoid an overnight stay in congested areas. The timing of loads is usually out of the control of drivers, but plan your trip to allow a full complement of work hours for the day. Entering and leaving the same night is a great way to avoid traffic. Always bring drinking water and snacks since it is difficult to find a place to pick anything up. Just trying to find a place to use the restroom can quickly become a nightmare.
- Learn From Previous Trips: Take notes on each trip you make to the Northeast. Keep track of whether customers allow trucks to stay on their property and for how long. Update directions if necessary. Is there legal street parking in the immediate area? Ask around to find out if spots are commonly available. Is the area safe? If you need weights, where are the nearest scales? Private scales that are open to the public may be the best option even though they are not certified.
- Best Chances to Find Available Truck Parking: The best time of day to find an available parking spot at a truck stop, rest area, or service plaza is early in the morning. Between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. is good because drivers with loads are heading out for the day. Spots fill quickly, so be patient. Circling a truck stop waiting for a slot to open is a time-honored tradition. Some home improvement and department stores allow truckers to park at any of their store locations overnight if you are hauling one of their loads. If you find an available parking spot, take it, do not gamble that you will come across a better location down the road.
- Cooperation: Ask for help and advice from experienced drivers at your company and push dispatchers for information about your likely next load. If you know where you are going next it is much easier to create a plan. If your dispatcher is reluctant to share information then try talking with your manager. All drivers face the same issues that you will while plying your trade in the Northeast, and experienced trucking company employees are well aware of the problem. It is often easier for them to ignore issues and leave it to the truck driver though, so be professional but press for help. Do not disparage dispatchers. They have their reasons for being tight about information until the last minute. A manager can speak to the sales department, and in turn they can work on parking and load timing issues directly with the customers.
- New Technologies That Help Truckers: GPS units for truck drivers, smart phones, apps, and satellite radio with national weather and traffic have had a large impact on the daily life of a trucker. Local and state governments, shippers, and trucking companies are providing more resources for the trucking industry by utilizing the Internet. New York’s nyc.gov, for example, contains important and helpful information for trucker’s at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/trucks.shtml. Their resources include truck parking information, truck route maps, low bridge locations, local regulations, and delivery information for the City. The Port Authority of NY and NJ is another good resource, it is found on the web at http://www.panynj.gov/truckers-resources/index.html.
Truck Drivers Can Help Solve the Problem
The issue of safe and legal truck parking is finally gaining momentum with the help of concerned groups working hard to get the word out to the public, congress, and local authorities. Truckers can help by signing online petitions, joining email campaigns, and calling the offices of politicians and the DOT. Let them know about bad situations you have faced personally.
The security of drivers is the most important concern, so if you encounter unsafe parking conditions let your company, and those organizations lobbying for change know about it; be clear, specific and as brief as possible. Keep all communications respectful. You have every right to be angry if your safety is needlessly threatened. However, your comments are much more likely to be ignored if angry or insulting.