Wal-Mart banishes truckers from parking lot in Ephrata, PA

| 11/19/2009

While the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Ephrata, PA, depends on truck drivers and trucks to deliver the goods they need to stock its shelves, the store has instituted a new policy that bans trucks from parking for any amount of time on their lot.

OOIDA Life Member Raymond Shankle of Deerwood, MN, said he was surprised by the store’s policy switch when he stopped across the street at the 222 Travel Plaza in Ephrata. He said without the posted notices by management at the truck stop, he could have been one of those who have been ticketed for violating the parking ban. 

“Just about everything I have on right now came from Wal-Mart. I even get my medicine from there, but now I am rethinking my decision because of their negative attitude toward truck drivers,” he said. “It’s confusing for us drivers to remember which Wal-Marts will allow truck parking and which ones don’t anymore.”

The ban prevents trucks and/or trailers from parking in the lot. However, an employee at the Ephrata store told Land Line the new policy “does not apply to Wal-Mart trucks.” There is no restriction banning RVs from the lot.

Russ Colton, store manager for the Ephrata Wal-Mart, was unavailable for comment about his store’s new truck-banning policy.

Ephrata Police Lt. Chris McKim said there is an ordinance in place that prohibits truckers from parking in residential areas, but there is no ordinance that prohibits commercial vehicles from parking in the township.

“Wal-Mart approached the police department for help in how to prevent trucks from parking in the lot,” he told Land Line on Tuesday, Nov. 17. “There has been some damage with trucks coming and parking. While they are parking, maneuvering or leaving, there has been some damage to property.”

McKim said since there was no ordinance to enforce in the township, he said the police department encouraged Wal-Mart to pursue enforcement options through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Thirteen PennDOT-approved restriction signs for “No Parking” were ordered and posted on the lot.

“So now what we have is a properly posted parking lot. Then Wal-Mart calls police for parking enforcement on the posted lot, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

McKim said drivers who violate Wal-Mart’s “No parking” policy don’t simply receive a parking ticket, but instead receive a traffic citation for disobeying the posted signs under state law.

“They (drivers) are being cited for a summary violation of the vehicle code under ‘parking in prohibited places,’ ” he said.

What’s tricky, McKim added, is that drivers can’t simply pay a small fine amount. Instead the law for traffic violations is based on a sliding fine where drivers may have to contact the judge and the judge then decide what the fine will be.

“For them (drivers) it becomes a traffic citation, and there are a lot of peripheral surcharges and other things that go on in Pennsylvania,” he said. “So what happens now is that it’s going to cost them a lot more than it should have because it’s a traffic ticket instead of just a parking ticket.”

McKim said fines collected from these tickets will be split between the state and the local municipality.

JoAnn Smith, the assistant manager at the 222 Travel Plaza in Ephrata, said the management team decided to post the warning letters so drivers, who may not have been aware of the policy shift, wouldn’t get popped with an estimated $110 ticket.

“If our lot was full, then yes, drivers used to park at Wal-Mart, which was convenient for them because they could run in and get some supplies before getting back out on the road,” Smith told Land Line. “We didn’t want them to find out the hard way that this was going on.”

McKim said he admits this is a “difficult decision” for all involved, including police, truckers and Wal-Mart. He said his department is charged with enforcing the law and that Wal-Mart went through proper channels to receive and post the signs. However, he said he also understands the dilemma drivers face when they are out of hours, the truck stop is full, and they have to stop and rest.

He also added that if a driver ignores the signs and goes ahead and parks on the lot, they will still receive the traffic ticket, but he won’t force them to leave their spot.

“It’s very difficult and it’s a safety concern for us as well,” McKim said. “When you’ve got people who are on their mandatory rest periods and the choice is to either get a ticket or drive off the lot, they can receive their ticket and they won’t be cited again if they finish out their rest period. I don’t know of any police officer who wants to go see that truck driver the second time in the night to cost him more money.”

He said the truck parking issue was brought up on Tuesday at the Ephrata Township Supervisors Meeting. McKim said “staff was directed to prepare a draft ordinance that would allow us (police) to simply issue a parking ticket, not just at Wal-Mart, but any properly posted private lot in the township.”

“We aren’t out there looking for truck violations. We are charged with responding to complaints,” he said. “It’s the truckers that make the world go around. Without them, we don’t get the goods we need; we don’t get the services we need.” 

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer