The lack of convenient, safe and secure rest areas has become one of the key problems for truck drivers, and a major factor putting off women and younger people joining the industry. This is one of the key findings of the European Commission’s Safe and Secure Truck Parking Study, the objective of which was to identify the needs of drivers for safe and secure parking areas and propose measures to tackle this issue. The study concludes that increasing the number of available secure parking areas throughout Europe is likely to significantly reduce cargo crime and improve driver operating conditions.
While the current driver shortage is the result of numerous factors, unattractive working conditions and inadequate security are amongst the most significant obstacles. Therefore, as explained by Matthias Maedge, IRU’s General Delegate to the EU, in an interview with Transport Intelligence, the lack of safe and secure parking infrastructure is the area that requires most immediate action. Tackling this problem through the concrete initiatives proposed in the study will visibly improve working conditions and thus help with driver recruitment and retention.
So, how bad is the issue? The study discovered that the demand for normal overnight parking in Europe is 400,000 parking spaces. Only 300,000 are available at the moment, most of which, as Maedge highlights, are far from being safe and secure. While the gravity of the issue varies across Member States and is greater in transit countries, such as Germany for instance, overall, all countries face a shortage of safe and secure parking spaces. France, for example, which cashes in significantly more revenue from road user charges compared to other countries (around €10bn compared to less than €5bn in Germany) faces the same issue in terms of lack of parking as other countries. This suggests that Member States have pushed parking infrastructure initiatives to the bottom of their priority lists.
Alongside this, freight theft incidents continue to rise. Cargo thefts in the European Union alone result in direct losses estimated to exceed €8.2bn per year, with most thefts taking place when trucks are parked. According to the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA), in Q1 2019, crimes when trucks stop in unsecured parking places went up 185.2% in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa region. Nine of the top 10 countries for cargo losses in the region were European countries, with France recording the highest number of incidents and highest year-on-year growth – cargo thefts in the country increased by 2,983% in Q1 2019 compared to the corresponding period in the previous year. Other major hotspots for cargo thefts during the quarter included the UK, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, all experiencing substantial year-on-year growth. So, with freight thefts rates going up and driver shortage becoming more acute than ever, can countries afford not to invest in safe and secure parking spaces?
Not according to the European Commission which seems determined to bring a positive change. As a response to this critical situation, the Commission has decided to make available funding to implement the study’s proposals. It is estimated that a total of €178m will go to companies that decide to create safe parking areas for trucks based on uniform European standards. But getting Member States on board is essential to achieve tangible results according to Maedge. The Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), the funding mechanism of the EU for projects on implementing infrastructure projects, will finance 30% of the projects. This means that the Member States will have to provide additional support and investors would have to cover the remaining 70%. It is therefore necessary to act at all levels, from local to national and European, to achieve a breakthrough.
The funding would be used to build new parking areas, upgrade existing ones and set up an expert group to implement a common standard for safe and secure parking areas. The common standard proposed by the study ranges from a low level (Bronze) via medium (Silver) to high (Gold and Platinum), all with the same minimum service levels for drivers in terms of sanitation and comfort. The lowest security standards include adequate lighting, monitoring (CCTV), properly trimmed plants to ensure good visibility, checks at the entrance and regular monitoring or checks of the parking lot. The platinum standard requires real time monitoring, including monitoring of entrance and exit, special solutions in case of power failure and physical barriers to work as deterrent to climb over. At the moment, there are various individual standards across Member States so this would be the first ever uniform standard for safe and secure parking across the EU. The study also proposes audit procedures, standard APIs for booking systems as well as practical and financial guidelines for promoters on how to develop safe and secure parking areas.
So, overall, the initiatives mark an important step in the fight against cargo theft and, equally important, in the Commission’s strategy to improve operating conditions for drivers. They also provide the necessary push for other EU institutions and Member States to give a much higher priority to these problems. The Transport Committee (TRAN), the European Parliament’s (EP) committee responsible for creating a common European policy for rail, road, inland waterways, maritime and air transport, was also committed to link regular weekly rest periods with safe and secure parking areas. In June 2018, TRAN voted that weekly rest can only be taken in the cabin if the truck is parked in a well-equipped parking space; otherwise a driver should sleep in a hotel or private location. To qualify for this exemption, a driver would need to use a self-certified secured parking facility with appropriate sanitation. These proposals were however watered down in the full plenary vote in the EP. The members of the EP rejected the TRAN amendments and voted that taking a regular weekly rest in the cabin is illegal. The final outcome is still uncertain as the interinstitutional negotiations between the EP, the Council and the Commission are expected to continue in the next parliamentary term, most likely in Autumn 2019.
Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, the Commission’s decision to allocate funding to expanding and improving the parking infrastructure across Europe is certainly a big step in tackling this problem. With the projected growth of road freight traffic, the demand for truck parking will continue to outpace the supply of safe and secure parking facilities and will only exacerbate the truck parking problems experienced in many countries. Therefore, strengthening the network of safe and secure parking facilities is a crucial element to accommodate future road freight traffic growth.