Keep on Trucking
When I was a kid, I thought all truck drivers were like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. They were funny and daring, resourceful and cocky. And they loved nothing better than blowing their air horns for a backseat full of kids pulling on imaginary air horn chords.
Burt Reynolds is pretty long in the tooth now, and I’m not a kid, so I have more realistic ideas about trucking and truckers. At Parking Today, we talk about the ins and outs of parking for cars, but we forget an important group of vehicles: trucks.
The trucking industry and the parking industry have some important commonalities: both are crucial components to any city, both are being neglected by the smart cities movement, and both have huge stake in the outcome of the development of autonomous vehicles. Food for thought.
It’s getting harder and harder to be a truck driver. This is a grueling job made more challenging by requirements for rest that thwart deadlines. Drivers have to choose between obeying the law and making an income. To make matters worse, they don’t have enough parking.
In 2009, after a truck driver named Jason Rivenburg was robbed and murdered while parked at an abandoned gas station, the industry started making more noise about improving conditions. Jason’s Law was passed in 2012 to provide $6 million in federal funds for the construction and restoration of safe roadside parking lots for truck drivers.
But parking is still a huge problem for truck drivers.
A study conducted by The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the trucking industry’s nonprofit research group, says that parking shortages cause truck drivers to lose about $4,600 in income every year. They spend 56 minutes a day looking for parking and that reduces their productivity by 9,300 revenue-earning miles.
What they need to drive and deliver safely are well-lit and well-placed rest stops with parking; flexibility in staging and delivery times that includes parking if they are early or have to, by law, stop driving and rest; and parking areas provided near highways that are also within reach of delivery points. And they need all of this in quantities that accommodate their real numbers.
I see trucks all over the highway, but not on my local streets. I have no idea where they park. By the time they reach my city, their numbers have probably diminished, and I assume they unload their cargo at night. I’ve noticed the truck bays behind the stores I visit and am impressed by how discrete they are.
One shopping area near me has a Staples, PetSmart, Rite-Aid and Chik-fil-A. Somehow their shelves are always full, and I buy candy or notebooks, fish food or a chicken sandwich whenever I want. And it’s all made possible by the magic of these invisible truckers.
When I go in the dollar store, and I try not to, I look around at the piles of junk and go on a little mind-marathon. I think about the underpaid worker in China or India or somewhere making ultra-cheap plastic toys all day, probably wondering what in the world Americans do with this stuff.
I think about the oil-churning freighter that carries it all across the ocean, the dock where it gets sorted into trucks, and the truckers who spend their days and nights on the road. Last but not least, I think about the kid who gets this junk in a birthday party goody bag, plays with it once and throws it away.
I’m not always in the middle of an existential crisis, but dollar stores set me off. And I understand that at every stage of the process I just described, until the kid at the party, somebody is trying to earn a living.
The new and improved system I imagine starts out as idealism and ends up a fairy tale and then I leave the store and try to forget about it. But I don’t give out goody bags after my kids’ birthday parties. I feed their friends, entertain them for hours and give them fat slices of cake – I don’t think they need a bag full of junky prizes, too.
Perhaps it would be good for all of us if we had to consider - if we had to observe - the process by which our groceries, furniture, clothes and home goods end up in the stores where we shop. I’m not talking about guilt – just awareness. And hopefully, an awareness that leads to moderation.
If I were the trucking industry, I’d be asking states, cities, corporations and citizens to absorb more of the cost for transporting goods. And add to that a requirement for providing safe and fair parking for truck drivers.