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CA: Fuel Prices Drive Truckers Away: Unable to profit, many are selling out or parking their rigs
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CA: Fuel Prices Drive Truckers Away Unable to profit, many are selling out or parking their rigs
For long-haul trucker Terry Barberousse, price increases at diesel pumps all over the country finally drove the dismal message into his brain, and one day he just gave up and sold the big Peterbilt at a loss.
For Bill Boucher, things weren't much different: After 27 years of hauling a flatbed on nearly every interstate highway and watching the fuel prices change even while he was filling his Freightliner's tanks, ``I just parked my truck. It's setting out there by the house.''
Some truckers, like Joe Treakle, are still getting by -- Treakle's 1995 Peterbilt is already paid for -- but it sure doesn't make life any easier when you know a coast-to- coast fuel bill that used to be $700 now runs a good bit north of $1,000.
``It's a catastrophe,'' said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a Grain Valley, Mo., organization that represents truck drivers. ``When fuel prices rise as rapidly as they have in the past few months, truckers take a real financial bath. We expect a big percentage of the industry is a month or two away from bankruptcy.''
And when the trucks stop, shipping officials say, the nation could well be paralyzed. In California alone, 100 percent of what gets to a retail outlet gets there by truck; 98 percent of the state's agricultural goods also travel by truck.
``This is having a tremendous effect on shippers,'' said Debra Phillips, executive director of the National Small Shipments Traffic Conference, a Washington, D.C., trade association commonly called NASSTRAC. ``Many trucking companies are operating on small margins, and all their profitability is being done away with. So they have to impose fuel surcharges. Most of our organization's members are paying more to move product.''
The nation's independent long-haul truckers, already squeezed by fierce competition, expensive trucks, maintenance costs and insurance premiums, are strapped. What used to be a pretty good living, with truckers making anywhere from $35,000 to $75,000 and more each year, has turned into a long haul for a short return.
Truckers have rallied in Washington, driving their 18-wheelers past the White House in protest against fuel taxes, which they want to see repealed. And industry lobbyists have testified before congressional committees, demanding that the government release fuel from federal reserves. Yesterday, truckers took their case to Sacramento, driving around the Capitol and demanding that the governor and the Legislature take immediate steps to lower gas prices. Some trucking firms and some independents -- the independent owner-operators drive about 70 percent of the 2 million long-haul trucks in the United States -- are already adding fuel surcharges to their bills in order to make ends meet.
Even so, the mathematics of trucking are finite, the drivers like to point out, and with a 53 percent increase in diesel fuel prices over the past year, the math does not add up to a winning combination.
Sitting in the wood-paneled cab of his Peterbilt across San Leandro Street from the Unocal truck stop in Oakland, Treakle, who lives in Owings Mills, Md., when he isn't on the road, ticks off the figures.
``I paid $100,000 for this truck in 1998. It had 600,000 miles on it then, and it has 832,000 now,'' he says. ``I pay $611 a month in insurance, and although my truck's paid for, there are some guys paying $2,000 to $3,000 a month in payments. I can't see how they're making it now.''
Treakle says he is a contract driver for JK Moving, a household moving firm in Sterling, Va.. The deal gives him 52 percent of the fee for hauling six families' furniture from California to the East Coast, and JK takes the remaining 48 percent. In addition to more expensive fuel, Treakle also has tires to think of (at $500 each), and the odd chance that he might blow an engine, which would require an outlay of about $8,000 to rebuild.
Barberousse, who lives in the Tulsa, Okla., suburb of Jenks, was one of those who found he was working terribly hard and not getting anywhere.
``I've been doing this since 1973, and it had always been a decent way of making a living,'' he said. ``But it started dwindling about four years ago. The rise in diesel fuel was just the stake through the heart for me.
``I kept setting there, fighting it, fighting it, fighting it, and my bank account was shrinking. I had to do something or go bankrupt. A (dealer) offered to buy my equipment, and I took it. I took a big beating on it and two weeks later, that truck is still setting on that dealer's lot, at $10,000 less than what I sold it for.''
Barberousse said many drivers are finding the only way to make a living is go to work for a fleet, but the fleets are hurting, too.
In Sacramento, Michael Applegate, owner of Applegate Drayage, a firm that has 50 trucks, says he has had to institute a fuel surcharge of 1.5 to 3 percent, and because he handles ``a lot of retail merchants, this just increases the cost of the goods. It's inflationary, and the reason it's inflationary is because before getting to market, the product moves by truck five to seven times -- to the manufacturer, then to a warehouse, then a wholesaler, a retailer, then again to a store. People aren't cognizant of how critical transportation is to the cost of a product.''
Whether in or out of California, however, the drivers think prices are universally too high. And so, one by one, they're parking their rigs and sitting on the porch.
``If you can't make any money with it, park it, '' says Boucher, from his home in Upton, Wyo. ``Something's wrong here. I was setting at a truck stop (a few weeks ago) and I could watch the fuel prices change while I was there.
That's greed. I'm just tired of the greed.''
-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), March 31, 2000
Carl: No one cares.
How old are you? Do your folks know you're wasting time on the Net, instead of doing your homework assignments?
You'll never get into Yale this way.
-- (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 31, 2000.
-- Fewertrucks (email@example.com), April 02, 2000
I was up on the interstate Friday and Staurday, and I would have to agree that there are fewer trucks in Northern Arizona than normal (most likely going to/from California). There were still quite a few of them, just a noticeable drop in number.
Apparently the troll replying to Carl's post hasn't yet figured out that this is likely going to have an impact on prices and inventories in the near future.
Of course, all this isn't inflationary! Just ask Klintoon or the Establishment media. Too bad they don't help us out with our bills by reducing our tax burden.
-- Flash (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 02, 2000.