NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings' Statement to LandLine

Thursday, February 28, 2019

NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings sent the following statement to LandLine, an online publication for truck drivers published by OOIDA, after the publication attacked comments made by Mullings during a NATSO Connect panel discussion. LandLine did not attend NATSO Connect and did not seek comment or verification before publishing its blog.

Statement from Lisa Mullings to LandLine:

"NATSO members are committed to serving the needs of the truck driving community. With 90 percent of the nation’s truck parking found at truckstops, driver rest is one of these needs. Through the years, NATSO has participated in numerous efforts to address the parking challenges that exist, including supporting Jason’s Law.

I was therefore dismayed to read a post by Ms. Jones condemning my position on the issue. Ms. Jones missed an opportunity to start a productive conversation about a concern of many professional drivers—what to do about truck parking. Instead, she read a blog that quoted me, and didn’t call me for my reaction—or even to check to make sure the quote was accurate since she didn’t hear it firsthand—before attacking it in her own blog post.

NATSO, along with other stakeholders such as OOIDA, is working with the National Coalition on Truck Parking to propose a number of recommendations for federal and state lawmakers and regulators to consider that would help address truck parking concerns. All of these ideas can be found on NATSO’s website.

Chief among them is exploring ways to lower the private sector’s costs in creating or expanding truck parking capacity, such as through tax incentives or land acquisition and maintenance assistance.

As many LandLine readers have likely experienced, some communities try to prevent trucks from parking in a city or town, making it difficult for truckstops to secure the necessary permits to build parking. State and local governments can ease regulatory burdens to encourage more truckstop parking. This could include removing local zoning ordinances that frequently preclude companies from adding truck parking or helping pay the cost of any permitting necessary to initiate construction on a new truck parking facility. This is especially true where property values or local zoning obstacles make expanding truck parking capacity exceedingly expensive.

In her post, Ms. Jones didn’t mention that I directed my statement about truck parking to the CEO of a large trucking company as part of a panel discussion. My point was not that drivers should pay for parking. Rather, I noted that carriers negotiate only diesel fuel prices with truckstops when deciding where their trucks should fuel. Why not ask about parking when constructing these deals, signaling to truckstops that parking is important to a carrier when selecting truckstop partners? Since dispatchers and optimizers instruct truck drivers on where to find fuel, couldn’t drivers be similarly advised about where to find parking? (I also asked these questions in a room full of trucking executives at ATA’s annual meeting this fall and several said they would take a new look at the issue.)

It isn’t hard to understand why diesel price is a priority. The trucking industry is extremely competitive, and cost control is essential to staying in business. However, there are other costs to consider in addition to the negotiated cost of each gallon of diesel. For example, it costs money to have a truck driver spend a half an hour or more of his or her time (as well as fuel) to find a parking space, or when he or she decides to stop sooner than required to be ensured a place to park?

This is real money, particularly to the driver. The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that a driver loses an average of one hour each driving day because of parking concerns. Drivers reported they either need this time to locate a spot or they elect to stop early so they don’t have to worry about getting a space when their hours expire. According to ATRI, this reduces the number of driving hours—and thus a driver’s pay—by about $4,700 a year.

This was the call that I reiterated to trucking companies during the panel discussion with motor carrier representatives this month at NATSO Connect.

For more than 20 years, I’ve talked to countless truckstop operators, transportation officials, fleet executives and of course truck drivers. While taking me on tours of their facilities, my members point out that at least half of the trucks parked in their lots at any given time are not actually customers. I’ve also heard truckers confirm this—some drivers buy fuel at one stop and park at another truckstop for free.

Providing and maintaining truck parking capacity is expensive. Truckstops bear the initial costs of land acquisition, permitting, zoning and capital costs as well as recurring costs such as operations, maintenance, security and insurance. What many don’t realize is that often truckstops are asked by states to bear the burden of improvements to nearby interchanges and infrastructure -- costs that can run into millions of dollars for each project.

Yet, despite this expense, truckstops build parking far cheaper than the government does. (This is what you’d expect in a capitalist system, right?) In addition, the vast majority of truckstops do not charge for truck parking.

Ms. Jones stated that truckers pay for parking from motor fuels taxes and other fees collected from drivers. Private truckstops build and maintain 9 out of every 10 truck parking spaces, and none of these spaces are funded by the government.

One thing we do know is that rest area commercialization WILL NOT increase parking. We know this because we are able to count the spaces for trucks on interstates that do have commercial rest areas and compare them to interstates with typical (non-commercialized) rest areas. There are 69 percent fewer truck parking spaces per mile along commercialized routes, according to a study commissioned by the NATSO Foundation by Ron Knipling of Safety for the Long Haul.

Ms. Jones’s assertion that NATSO opposes commercialized rest areas because of fear of competition ignores reality. NATSO members compete head to head every single day with businesses right across the street. Just off the interstate you will find truckstops and fuel stops competing against one another, displaying large signs posting their fuel prices. Commercial rest areas stifle competition because they operate as monopolies purely by virtue of their location on the interstate right-of-way.

Incidentally, these are the same market fundamentals that OOIDA applies to concerns about a truck driver shortage. OOIDA has long held the view that that the trucking industry is plagued with a driver turnover issue rather than a truck driver shortage and that it could be resolved if drivers were paid a higher wage. Pay more and we’ll have more drivers.

While OOIDA has called the driver “shortage” a myth because of inadequate pay, we don’t refer to a truck parking shortage as a “myth.” We do, however, think that the principles of supply and demand apply to both professional drivers and parking. Trucking companies that negotiate fuel contracts could increase supply by asking potential diesel fuel suppliers about parking. Drivers who need overnight parking could increase supply by purchasing products or services where they park.

For its part, NATSO will continue to ask the tough questions necessary to develop solutions to truck parking concerns, and we’re urging DOT to do the same as it updates its Congressionally-mandated truck parking survey.

NATSO is urging DOT to ask trucking companies whether they reimburse their drivers for truck parking as well as to ask drivers whether their companies reimburse them for truck parking. NATSO also asked the agency to survey truckstop owners and operators about how frequently trucking companies include truck parking in their negotiations on fuel purchase agreements. Finally, we requested that DOT officials be surveyed regarding the degree to which truck parking is considered when new regulations are being proposed for the trucking industry.

NATSO supports many ideas for expanding truck parking that genuinely have the ability to help our member’s customers. We hope that OOIDA will agree to work together with us to develop real solutions.”

Lisa Mullings is president and CEO of NATSO, representing America’s travel plazas and truckstops.

Media Contact:
Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman
Vice President, Public Affairs
Phone: (703) 739-8578
Email: twlazlowski@natso.com