Ontario truck parking initiatives an ‘insult’, says study author

The author of a report into Ontario truck parking is accusing the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) of a "decade of inaction" on the issue - and is calling recent initiatives nothing less than an insult to truck drivers. "MTO's response to date on the parking shortage is insufficient to solve the problem, an insult to the thousands of drivers who have aided Ontario during Covid-19, and ignores the important issue of public safety as seen in risk of collisions," says a statement issued by SPR Associates of Toronto. "MTO staff have provided some temporary improvements, but not the more dramatic remedies needed."

The author of a report into truck parking says Ontario's response to the issue is an insult to the truck drivers who remained on the road during Covid-19. (Photo: istock)

The consultancy was behind a £280,000 study in 2018 that explored longhaul truck parking and rest areas along southern Ontario highways.

"It is easy to criticize and harder to create solutions. However, after three years, MTO's response to SPR's report must be regarded as token or symbolic only, and insufficient given the importance of this issue to the economy and public safety," SPR says. "The weak response might be attributed to a tendency of the MTO bureaucracy to ignore such problems, concentrating on its engineering and planning studies, as it has under Liberal governments (2003-2018) and the current Tory government." The study called for more than 350 new parking spots per year, and recommended emergency measures such as partnering with municipalities and repurposing public lands including the existing Downsview airport, off-season CNE grounds, and a yet-built Pickering airport.

MTO identifies parking gains

The unusual critique from a study author comes just weeks after the ministry issued a bulletin highlighting recent parking-related investments including portable washrooms at lay-bys and truck inspection stations, work with Metrolinx to open select Park n' Ride lots and commuter carpool lots in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, and keeping all 23 ONroute travel plazas open with washrooms and enhanced cleaning.

"Rest areas play a key role in supporting the safe movement of goods across the province," the MTO reported. "The expansion and improvement of rest areas in Ontario is currently underway as part of a five-year strategy that will see the addition of 10 new sites and the rehabilitation of more than 14 sites across the province, including 178 additional truck parking spaces to be added at four existing ONroute travel plazas." All the examples had been previously announced. "This is part of our emphasis on improving public policy, not just taking the government's money and publishing," says Ted Harvey, the lead author on the SPR report, explaining why the critique was issued.

"They should be given credit for doing the most they can, within the envelope of their current infrastructure and resources, but the needs go beyond that." Many challenges could be addressed through partnerships with municipalities, he stressed.

'Not well-received'

Harvey says the report "was not well-received by MTO staff" who at one point told him it was unlikely to be shared publicly. "This is typical of government.

They often hesitate to do things and often sit on top of research," Harvey says. "I felt particularly it was important to try to push this because we had the researched understanding of what was going on." The SPR study focused primarily along the Highway 401 corridor between the international border at Detroit and the Quebec border. It is traveled by about 40,000 trucks per day.

"SPR's study confirmed that the longstanding truck parking shortage is a major issue for Ontario, resulting in extremely negative impacts on drivers and the trucking industry in general," the consulting firm says in its statement. "The study demonstrated that driver fatigue from not being able to find a safe place to park to rest or sleep results in a higher risk of collisions and risks to public safety." The research identified a shortage of 1,200 to 2,600 truck parking spaces in Southern Ontario, where there are currently about 3,900 spots available. The most intense shortage of parking was around Toronto, although a "still noteworthy" shortage of parking was identified in zones around Highway 401.

"MTO's efforts to create truck parking at ONroute centres in the three years preceding the study are regarded as ineffective by truck drivers and trucking companies," SPR says. "Improvements to ONroute parking areas were seen as mostly aesthetic, creating prettier parking, with no real increase in truck parking spots." While the government announced plans to create "much needed" parking in northern Ontario, there are needs in central, southwestern and eastern Ontario, SPR adds. "The 28 locations identified by MTO for the redevelopment of parking are mostly located in remote areas where land values are low, with existing tourist stops.

These will help in the north, east and southwest, but do not fix the urgent shortages in central Ontario."