Efforts to create a national “truck parking” management system may soon be getting some extra help from the U.S. Department of Transportation, according Dan Murray, vice president for the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), as truck parking is increasingly being viewed as a way to address driver fatigue issues.

In his keynote address at the Pegasus TransTech User Conference in Safety Harbor, FL, last week, Murray said that while truck parking doesn’t rank high on the industry’s list of top concerns – the tops slots taken by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, hours-of-service (HOS) reform, the health of the U.S. economy, and the driver shortage – lack of parking is seen as growing problem due to HOS rest period requirements.

“Yet states have been closing public rest areas to save money,” Murray explained. “Meanwhile, time in some rest areas is limited and enforced by police, who also ticket drivers pulled over on entrance and exit ramps when no other space is available to them.”

The shortage of truck parking – which has been a growing problem for over a decade – is only projected to get worse as freight volumes are expected increase by some 25% by 2021, according to research by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA).

To combat the parking shortage issue, ATRI is working with several groups to help develop a “truck parking reservation system” so drivers and fleets can check on parking availability along an interstate corridor in real time using wireless devices, Murray said.

One program launched with the help of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the University of Minnesota involves two public rest areas on I-94 in Minnesota and is expected to expand over the next several months to include private truck stops as well.

MnDOT said the system uses a network of cameras to monitor parking availability at the rest stops, automatically identifying available spaces and then notifying drivers and carriers about parking availability in real time via a website, in-cab messaging, and variable message displays a few miles ahead of the rest area on the highway.

By providing information about the available number of parking spaces at each stop, MnDOT explained that the “reservation” system should help drivers determine if it is safe to continue to the next rest area or if they should stop at their current location. The ability to determine when and where to stop within hours of service requirements could help drivers and carriers make better overall trip and operations decisions, the agency stressed.

With several Wisconsin rest stops coming online later this year, Murray expressed hope that the system will ultimately extend the length of I-94, which runs 1,585 miles from Detroit, MI, to Billings, MT.

However, such a system would necessarily be fee-based, so thereal trick to fostering wider use of such technology is convincing the trucking industry to pay for it, explained Dave Miller, founder and COO of Gnosis Management and formerly senior VP for LTL carrier Con-way, Inc.

“Fleet managers are just now trying to get their brains around the concept that parking that’s not going to be free anymore,” he noted during a webinar on the topic last year. “Of course, [parking] has never really been ‘free’ as it’s been paid for by diesel fuel taxes and embedded within the cost of services provided by truck stops and other private entities.”

Miller added that cost effectively operating a truck parking reservation system, as well as disseminating accurate and reliable information to drivers without distracting them, are other key challenges as well.