Is there a need for more truck stops? The short answer is – yes. Increasing Hours of Service (HOS) regulations, unsafe or illegal parking lot conditions, and shortage of parking spaces at existing fuel stops clearly indicate the necessity of additional fuel stops.
A closer look at the issue reveals that it is not that simple. In a bid to stay afloat, many existing travel plazas have widened their appeal to include vacationers and RV’s. This increases competition for already limited space. The result is a catch-22 that prevents truck stop owners from expanding – either through additional parking, or increasing the number of fuel stops.
The need for truck stops is at an all-time high. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) updated regulations in late 2014, restricting drivers to only 11 hours of drive time after an 8-hour rest period.
Those same regulations will not allow over eight hours of consecutive driving without at least a 30-minute nap. All this must take place within a 14-hour window, or heavy fines are imposed. Spend too long waiting for a load, and you’re parked for the night.
Unsafe or Illegal Parking
Since most shippers do not allow parking, drivers must often choose an unsafe or illegal parking lot. Parking fines and fatigued searches for legal parking are the least of concerns. The consequences of fuel stop shortages can be life-threatening.
In June of 2014, a truck driver named Mike Boeglin pulled into a Detroit shipper and called his wife. They chatted excitedly about the impending arrival of their first child. Due to the shipper’s lack of parking and HOS regulations, Mike opted to stay the night in a nearby lot. He never woke up. Police speculate that robbery motivated the suspects, who shot him, then set his rig on fire.
The issue behind unsafe and illegal parking is that there are not enough places to park. Rest areas are designed for short-term stops, not overnight stays. And all too often, existing fuel stops are overcrowded, especially in eastern states. Truck stops fill up by 2:00-4:00 in the afternoon, leaving long-haul truckers who arrive later with few options.
Some truck stops offer reserved access for a fee. While this ensures safe and efficient parking for the night, many truck drivers are reluctant to pay $7-$12 for an expense that is not typically reimbursed by their fleet. The charges are tax-deductible as a business expense, but at a fraction of the cost.
Keeping Truck Stops Afloat
Existing fuel stops face their own dilemma. Rising overhead costs and lowered fuel profit margins leave many truck stop owners scrambling for reasons to stay open. In many cases, the paved property is worth more than the business.
To make ends meet, many fueling stations are appealing to a wider customer base. Amenities such as showers are open to motorists and RV’s as well as big rig operators. Some stations offer free overnight parking for RVs, which leaves truckers with even less space in an already crowded market.
Is There a Need for More Fuel Stops?
More fuel stops are needed, but there are multiple factors to consider. Current fuel chains must operate at a profit to expand. Carrier terminals for long-haul drivers are another proposed option. Whatever the solution, it’s going to take input from seasoned operators, fleet management, and truck stop owners to reach a mutually beneficial arrangement.