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The givers and the takers: generosity and greed

Within the first hours after the Sept. 11 airline hijackings and subsequent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we at OOIDA began receiving a huge number of phone calls from members. The phone calls covered two very different subjects. The first was to me very predictable and filled me and our entire staff with pride in the people we work for and represent. Our phone lines literally became swamped by members seeking to find ways to volunteer their services in any way possible to assist in this terrible catastrophe.

The second subject of the phone calls came shortly after the first and still within only a few hours of the attacks. This subject, although I suppose predictable, still came as a shock because it occurred with such force so soon on the heels of this national tragedy. The subject of these calls filled us with loathing and disgust.

Typical of the calls we began receiving was the call from Tim Von Duyke who said he was fueling at the Flying J near Fort Pierce, FL. He said he was stunned as he watched the price of diesel go from $1.439 per gallon to $1.849 per gallon. And George Earls who stopped in Haubstadt, IN, where the price of fuel had jumped about 40 cents a gallon to $1.72 at the Williams and Flying J Truck Stops. A nearby SpeedWay stop went to $1.749. Other reports from around the country were just as typical. Loves near Ranger, TX, went from $1.359 to $1.809. Flying J in Tyler, TX, went from $1.319 to $1.709. Flying J in Elroy, AZ, jumped from $1.409 to $1.809 and Flying J in Bakersfield, CA, leaped to $1.979 from $1.539.

While many other truckstops, both independent and chains, jumped on the price gouging bandwagon, none seemed as bold or consistent throughout their network as Flying J, both in the speed and amount which they raised their prices and the slowness in bringing them back down. Most of the truckstops and service stations who raised their prices dramatically on the 11th had dropped back to normal pricing by the 12th in the face of customer complaints and adverse media publicity. A review of the Flying J fuel pricing web site shows their network-wide average price at 2:30 p.m. CST on the 11th, just a few hours after the attacks, had risen to $1.696 per gallon. At 4:30 p.m., the average dropped to $1.602. At 8:30 a.m. on the 12th, the average had dropped to $1.555 and at 1:00 p.m. on the 14th to $1.49.

Below is a letter posted at Flying J Truck Stops on Sept. 11 from their president, J. Phillip Adams, addressed to Flying J customers.

“In response to the cowardly acts of terrorism carried out this morning on American soil against Americans, we wish to advise you that during this time of peril for our country, many major fuel terminals, both at ports on our coastal waters as well as inland, are being closed for security reasons. This will result in temporary shortages over most of the country.

We encourage you to avoid panic buying and the hoarding of petroleum products. Doing so will only intensify this most difficult situation and cause undue added stress to the anticipated critical supply of fuel.

Be advised that it is our primary objective to keep supply available and we will keep you advised of the supply situation as it develops.

In closing, please join all of us here at Flying J in prayer for those families directly impacted by the loss of loved ones and for our leaders that they will exercise prudence, resolve and strength in the aftermath of this national tragedy.”

In this case, the words and the actions truly do speak for themselves.

There were also those who didn’t jump on the bandwagon. A representative from Bosselmans, for example, mentioned that while they got a bit nervous watching what their competitors were doing, thinking “maybe they knew something we didn’t,” checks with their suppliers indicated no supply or price changes so “we calmed down and just said no.”

OOIDA representatives surveyed many of the major oil companies and found absolutely no evidence of supply or price disruptions and no significant indication that any oil refineries were shutting down. Several indicated that while they had initiated increased security measures, there were no supply problems. It’s important to note that even if there had been price or supply changes in this short period of time, there is absolutely no way truckstops could have experienced any cost increases on fuel already in stock. Several oil company representatives also indicated that while they had little control over what non-company owned retailers were doing, they found those actions extremely distasteful and that company owned retail outlets were instructed to hold the line on prices.

You will decide for yourselves the appropriate response to these unconscionable acts of greed but I can say without hesitation that I would never buy another drop of fuel or do any business at all with someone who would seek to profit from one of the most tragic events in our nation’s history. We may very well see real price or supply disruptions before this war on terrorism is over. That makes it all the more important to send the message now that we won’t be taken advantage of by greedy profiteers who seem to hold the value of profits above everything else.

March/April
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