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IN PRINT — Signs of No Parking: B.C.’s parking dilemma

Posted: December 2, 2016

British Columbia’s newest truck parking area was on the verge of opening in early November. “We’re just putting in the poles for the lights,” said the project manager, referring to 40 spaces being created at Nordel Way in Delta, the result of a $2.8-million investment and some provincial land.

As helpful as that is, it barely scratches the surface of the province’s broader parking shortage. Nearby Surrey has concluded that about 1,400 trucks are parking illegally on its streets and in neighboring Langley on any given day. Commercial lots can charge about $250 per month to store a truck and trailer, but that’s if they can be found in the first place. Available spaces are often unavailable, inconvenient, or unaffordable.

“I’m constantly hearing from truck drivers looking to park in a safe place,” says Surrey city councillor Tom Gill, who had championed a massive parking development first proposed in 2015. That project was quickly mired in controversy because of its proximity to aquifers and wildlife around Little Campbell River. Even Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood joined the fight, joking in a 2015 Halloween tweet that she would haunt proponents as a dead salmon, referring to a hatchery near the proposed 77-acre locale.

Developers GG Metro cancelled the plan last month.

“I still feel like compromises could have been made,” Gill laments.

British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation says about 74% of the province’s 174 rest stops are suitable for commercial truck traffic. They typically hold 10 to 20 truck spaces per lot, with a few larger facilities offering up to 40 spaces. But spaces are often lacking, particularly for owner-operators and smaller companies lacking dedicated yards. They’re often left to find room on streets, farmland, or personal driveways.

Chilliwack-based owner–operator Dale Dickey, who’s been on the road for some 24 years, says he’s fortunate enough to have a contractor supply him with parking, but feels for any drivers coming from outside the province. He knows they’re going to
be frustrated.

“It’s taken so long for our parking to get this far, it will be hard to ever catch up,” Dickey says of the parking deficit.

As land value in B.C. increases at record rates, the British Columbia Trucking Association says truck parking facilities are simply an unattractive option for most private developers. It’s a concern that the association raised in a letter to Gill last summer, noting that truck parking facilities “have been slow to be developed due to zoning restrictions and difficulties in obtaining -business licences beyond temporary use.” Gill says that permanent parking spots face high development fees and -servicing costs compared to the price of temporary permits, which are issued for three years and can often be extended to six.

If truck parking is unprofitable, why did GG Metro want to develop its project? “The way to make the business work is to have other business around it,” says company spokesman Patrick Giesbrecht. The developers had planned to offer low monthly parking rates, but also include an array of other services like repairs and wash bays. “It’s a captive audience, those hundreds of trucks,” he explains.

Giesbrecht finds it ironic that many locals were against the Surrey truck park on environmental grounds. His team had offered options such as oil and grease sensors to help protect against leaks. There’s no such protection for “all the trucks that park up and down the Fraser Valley where I live.”

Meanwhile, individual communities have been forming task forces to investigate solutions to the commercial parking shortage. Some, like Abbotsford, have agreed to fast-track development applications for commercial truck parking lots, and even floated the idea of just letting trucks park where they need to. Others, like Surrey, have seen city councils set goals like trying to get into the truck parking business themselves, at least in part to understand the shortage that intensifies with an annual double-digit increase in the number of trucks.

British Columbia itself is investing $9 million over three years to improve and expand rest stops and pull outs. That funding followed a survey conducted by the province in January 2016. Of the more than 800 respondents, drivers overwhelmingly said they needed more truck stops. The province has since announced that one new modern rest area will be built between Merritt and Kelowna on the Okanagan Connector, “providing a safe, and convenient place for the commercial trucking industry and tourists to stop and rest along this stretch of highway,” said Ministry of Transportation spokeswoman Sonia Lowe.

When asked if an eventual mandate for Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) would create even more pressure around truck parking – as drivers vie to stay on the legal side of Hours of Service – Lowe responded that, “The Hours of Service rules are not changing in Canada. The same rules that currently apply today will continue to apply in the future regardless of an ELD mandate.”

British Columbia will soon issue a Request for Information through BC Bid to explore private sector interest in supplying commercial services at rest areas, such as service stations, convenience stores, restaurants, and other amenities. In fact, next spring the province is installing wi-fi at five rest stops, with another 20 to follow.

Dickey is unimpressed by the focus on the latter service. “Great,” he says. “We have wi-fi, but we still can’t take a dump or wash our face.” 

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