Truckers say proposed Warner Robins ordinance only complicates their job

chwright@macon.comFebruary 17, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Shirtless truck driver Pat Thompson crawled from behind the front seat of his cab Friday afternoon. Three shirts hung on hangers on the passenger’s side.

“About once a week, I come in here, watch a movie, get about eight hours of sleep and then go on,” he said.

Thompson was parked at a former Winn-Dixie on Ga. 96, which City Council members point to as a reason they’re taking up an ordinance that would ban such long-term parking for truckers. Truckers said they’ve run into similar ordinances elsewhere that only make their jobs harder, especially since federal law requires long rests.

“When you limit parking, you’re basically creating a bigger problem if you don’t determine other parking possibilities,” said Dave Heller, a safety director at the Professional Truck Driver Institute.

The rules

The City Council will vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would prohibit “heavy vehicles,” such as 18-wheelers and cabs or trailers, from parking more than two hours in commercial or industrial lots. The only exceptions would be for vehicles with official business on the property.

At their last council meeting, council members had a lengthy exchange about the ordinance. All seemed in favor, though.

Councilman Mike Brashear said the city marshal reported the jungle of trucks at the vacant Winn-Dixie. Brashear said when he, the mayor and another council member drove by the lot, there were about 13 trailers there.

The parking lot is a real-life version of a child’s toy-truck collection: dump trucks, lone trailers, cabs without trailers, standalone box trailers, full 18-wheelers and even pickup trucks with attached flatbed trailers. Some are occupied, and others are left overnight.

Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins said it has been a problem since more than a decade ago when she was city clerk.

“They don’t need to think they can park anywhere in the city just because there’s a vacant lot,” she said.

But Councilman Mike Davis, while pledging his support for the ordinance, said council needs to consider the impact it could have on truckers. The city already has an ordinance banning heavy trucks in residential neighborhoods.

“Ordinances like this (commercial lot ordinance) do go into effect from time to time, but they need to look at other options for these truckers to park,” Heller said.

Councilman Daron Lee proposed the out-of-town truckers take advantage of the Pilot Travel Center off Interstate 75 and Watson Boulevard. He said independent locals need to find proper storage.

Heller and truckers at the Winn-Dixie, even some stopping just to eat, said those suggestions are easier said than done.

Independent drivers don’t have the capital to pay for storage and parking. And while company-backed truckers have employers who pay those costs, there isn’t enough space.

“The Pilot is usually packed,” said Thompson, who has driven trucks for 20 years. “You can’t get in there. There’s no space. ... Rest areas on the interstate, they’re packed.”

Federal law requires truckers to come off the road after 14 hours -- they can only drive 11 of those 14 hours -- and get 10 consecutive hours of rest.

If their hours are up, they can’t just say, “Gee, I’m going to continue on down the road until I find something,” Heller said.

That’s why Thompson stopped at the Winn-Dixie parking lot, he said. Before being interrupted, Thompson was following his routine: watching a movie before taking his mandatory sleep.

“I delivered to Frito-Lay at 6:30 this morning,” said Thompson, who lives in Illinois. “By law, I’ve got to take a 10-hour break.”

Heller said some cities designate certain abandoned parking lots for truck drivers, but a lot of times it falls to big stores such as Wal-Mart to offer their lots.

Last year, Congress passed a law devoting federal funding to build safe parking options for truckers. The bill, known as Jason’s Law, was named for a trucker who parked at an abandoned gas station to rest and was murdered.

Meanwhile, Warner Robins is not the only city passing ordinances that restrict truck parking.

“Just about every city will have dealt with it at some point,” Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said.

Perry City Manager Lee Gilmour said the city wanted to prevent truckers from parking at the city Wal-Mart but was unsuccessful.

“It’s a no-go if the owner says it’s OK,” Gilmour said.

Jim Elliott, Warner Robins city attorney, said the ordinance council is considering was based on similar ordinances in other cities.

Gilmour said his city hadn’t had any problems pertaining to the truckers but wanted to prevent future issues with crime, pollution and traffic.

Warner Robins council members did not give any specific concerns about the truckers’ parking. Elliott, Brashear and Councilman Paul Shealy directed the question to the city marshal, who did not return calls for comment.

Thompson and Carl Vaughn, who has driven trucks for 17 years, said they have seen truckers leave trash behind and understand it sullies their reputations.

But Vaughn said they’re Americans trying to make a living for their families just like anyone else. The Richmond, Va., native had made a delivery to Perdue Chicken in Perry.

“They want their groceries, they want their makeup, they want their medicines ... but it’s almost as if they want you to be there and then they just want you gone,” he said.

“Well, it’s not just as simple as that. It’s not a spaceship where you can just take off and fly out of here.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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