by Jim Park
You won't believe this number: on any given business night between the ungodly hours of 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., says the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, an average of 25,431 trucks make a trip along the 400-km stretch of Highway 401 between the Detroit/Windsor border crossing and Toronto. No wonder there's a parking problem!
That number, by the way, is only 14.4% of the total volume on those 400 km during an entire 24-hour day.
Who knows how many of those trucks need a parking space at any given time, but the fact is that there are nowhere near enough spots anyway. It's a very real safety problem. Just ask Winston Nowlan, who drives for Emerald Transport out of Moncton, N.B.
A few weeks back, after a two-hour delay at the Windsor border crossing, Nowlan found himself tired and almost out of hours eastbound on the 401 at 4:00 a.m. He pulled into the service centre at Tilbury, but what he found was chaos. Nowlan tells us that he could see several vacant parking spaces, but quite a few extremely inconsiderate drivers had parked so that it was impossible to reach them. He had no choice but to leave.
Amazingly, he couldn't do that either, at least not the obvious way, because poorly parked trucks also made it impossible to travel through the service centre! So Nowlan, along with three other drivers, had only one option: back out along the entrance ramp and rejoin the highway ahead of the service centre. Now that's dangerous.
Ontario Provincial Police officers were on the scene trying to clear the place out and ticketing the poorly parked idiots. They've been doing that for over a year now in some of the existing service areas along Highway 401, particularly the eastbound facility at Tilbury. We've heard truckers complain about this practice, but under the circumstances, it's not hard to see the police point of view.
"We're just enforcing the regulations," says Const. Wayne Burke of the OPP's London detachment. "We know there's a problem, but parking in a restricted area isn't the answer."
The Ontario government is well aware of the situation, and Ministry spokesman Bob Nichols tells us this parking fiasco is under review. "We're going to be looking at any and all alternatives to the problem of commercial vehicle parking all over the province. We know there's a need and we'll be developing a solution based on our review," he says.
The need, quite obviously, is for the development of more U.S.-style rest areas, not necessarily more full-service travel plazas. Nichols says there's plenty of evidence to suggest that even minimal facilities, with lights and washrooms, would go a long way in addressing the issue. At least one truckstop operator agrees in principle, but sees a different solution.
Rather than invest all that money in new paved parking lots, Bob Lodge says he could use a few subsidies to increase the size of his own facility, the 730 Truckstop in Cardinal, Ont. He's got a good point. Lodge is currently developing a new truckstop in Woodstock, Ont., with 264 parking spaces. That translates into $2.2 million worth of asphalt alone, just for parking. He's not looking for a handout; he's just proposing a streamlined approach to providing more much needed parking.
Don Hunter, manager of the Husky Truckstop near London, Ont., says it's a real burden on businesses to provide parking when there's little revenue involved. "There seems to be an unwritten rule that if you're a truckstop, you have to provide free parking," he says.
Nowlan says he doesn't feel obliged to patronize the truckstop where he parks, yet he also figures he deserves a safe and decent place to spend the night. And he's prepared to pay for it. That's not to say that paid parking is coming any time soon, but it's clearly not profitable for truckstop operators to maintain acres of serviced parking if nobody's buying anything.
"I don't see why they [private truckstop operators] should have to provide us a place to park," Nowlan remarks. "It was the government who made the hours of service rules. They should provide us with a place to sleep."
The problem is most acute in southern Ontario due to the huge volume of traffic on major highways, but it's evident elsewhere too. Nowlan says that the Nova Scotia government took the trouble to survey drivers as to rest-area requirements while planning its new highway through the Cobequid Pass a few years back.
"They offered us four or five suggestions and asked us to pick the facility that we thought would work," he says. "Naturally, most of us picked the nicest one they offered. What we got was a place for a half-dozen trucks, near the toll booth, with a half-mile walk to a single-hole outhouse. I don't know why they bothered."
British Columbia also has a few parking challenges, where winter weather and the terrain pose their share of problems. The nearest full-service truckstop to Vancouver, for example, is nearly 90 minutes away in Chilliwack. British Columbia Trucking Association president Paul Landry suggests that provincial trucking associations are in business to deal with problems like this, but says he doesn't often hear from out-of-town truckers expressing their parking frustrations.
"Those people aren't likely to call us to complain if they're from Manitoba," Landry says. "So we seldom hear about the problems." His suggestion is for drivers to call the trucking association in provinces where they find parking hassles, and give them the out-of-towner's perspective. Then they can get to work on it, armed with some real-world input.
We think that's a great idea, so here are the numbers. Let's be constructive.
Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association:
Quebec Trucking Association:
Ontario Trucking Association:
Manitoba Trucking Association:
Saskatchewan Trucking Association:
Alberta Trucking Association:
British Columbia Trucking Association:
Canadian Trucking Alliance: